EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — After being warned by coach Tom Coughlin that now was not the time to slack off, the New York Giants held their final workout before the start of training camp in late July.
Coughlin put the team through a short jog-through Thursday in ending a mandatory three-game minicamp for rookies and veterans.
The only notable player missing — and not injured — was leading receiver Victor Cruz, the restricted free agent who has yet to reach a deal on a new contract. Cruz wants roughly $10 million annually and the Giants have offered between $7 million-to-$8 million.
While a deal is expected, the pressing issue for New York will be getting back to the playoffs in 2013. After winning the Super Bowl in February, 2012, the Giants missed out with a 9-7 mark last season.
"When you start the (offseason) program, really it's a new season," said guard Chris Snee, who is entering his 10th season. "I will say when you win the Super Bowl, you have a few commitments as far as the White House and ring ceremony, which is the closure to it all. But unless you win it all, every year is a new year. So if you are asking are we aware we didn't make the playoffs and how badly we want to get back? Yeah we want to be in the mix at the end and we do feel we have to team to do that."
There is no doubt the Giants have turned over the roster. Gone in recent months from a recent Super Bowl championship team are defensive linemen Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty, linebacker Michael Boley, safety Kenny Phillips, linebacker Chase Blackburn and running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
Young standout defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul may not be ready for the season because of recent back surgery, and that only adds to the question mark about a defense that slipped from one of the best in the NFL to one of the worst, or at least one of the most inconsistent.
Eli Manning and the offense put up points despite injuries to receiver Hakeem Nicks, but that dynamic might be different with Bradshaw gone, Snee and center David Bass coming back from offseason surgery and longtime tackle David Diehl facing a challenge from first-round draft pick Justin Pugh.
"This is a new season, but missing the playoffs is very much a driving force," said tight end Bear Pascoe, who is doubling as a fullback with Henry Hynoski sidelined by a knee injury. "Missing last year, that burned a little bit, having won the Super Bowl and then not making the playoffs. I think that is a burn in a lot of guys' sides now. It's a big motivation but you try not to harp on it and keep looking forward."
Coughlin made sure his players left knowing that they weren't headed off for a vacation, reminding them to count the days until reporting back for training camp on July 26.
"This day and age, it's all about nutrition, about rest and taking care of yourself, about crossing those days off the calendar," Coughlin said. "Really, it's not like the old offseason where you had 13 or 14 weeks. We're into our ninth (week of the offseason program). As far as resting a little bit and then picking back up — Nope. You wouldn't be able to do that."
Cornerback Corey Webster, who coming off a sub-par season, said players know their season has already started.
"There is no more offseason, you have five or six weeks to get ready for training camp, not to sit down and relax," he said. "Some people may take the first week off or do something on the weekend, but Monday through Friday is a grind, getting the body mentally and physically prepared for the season."
Mathias Kiwanuka, the eight-year veteran who is switching back from linebacker to defensive end this season, said the new collective bargaining agreement has changed the landscape of football, especially for the veterans. Practice time has been reduced and coaches now have to make roster decisions with less on-field evaluation time.
Kiwanuka believes that might extend the careers of some veterans.
However, he noted that for teams, it means having everyone ready for the start of training camp if they want to make a run at a title.
"If we have to play tomorrow, we should be ready today," Kiwanuka said. "I am not going to mince words. We did not play well last year. It was too up and down and that's not acceptable. In order to make sure that never happens again we have to make sure we are ready from the beginning."
NOTES: Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said second-year receiver Rueben Randle benefited greatly from Cruz and Nicks missing the organized team activities this spring and will get a lot more playing time this season. ... Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said middle linebacker Mark Herzlich has made strides in the offseason. ... Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn is looking for punt and kickoff returners, although he hopes David Wilson can continue to be his kickoff returner despite becoming the No. 1 running back with the loss of Bradshaw.