By JED LOCKETT
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Two years removed from a Super Bowl championship, Ahmad Bradshaw and the New York Giants struggled to an 8-8 record in 2009, finishing third in the NFC East and missing the playoffs.
The season was frustrating for Big Blue, especially since they started it with a string of five consecutive wins and looked to be every bit as good as the Giants squads that made the playoffs the previous two years.
“We had a tough year,” said Bradshaw, who was in Bluefield for his second annual Ahmad Bradshaw football camp earlier this week. “We started off perfect, 5-0. After that, we had a lot of injuries which is not an excuse. But we just didn’t play to par last year.
“We’ve got something to prove this year coming back and starting this year off right just like last year and being able to have a tremendous year this year is going to take a lot of teamwork just like this camp is going to take all of these guys and all these players to have a good camp.”
The Giants did suffer a number of injuries, many to players who were expected to make an impact. Wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon, defensive end Justin Tuck and offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie went down early in the year and were never able to regain their consistency.
But there was something else. One week after blowing out the Raiders 44-7 at home to move to 5-0, the Gaints were at the other end of a 48-27 blowout to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
They were not the same since.
“The first five games, we came out fired up, winning five games in a row,” Bradshaw said. “And then just the consistency, if it wasn’t our offense it was our defense; if it wasn’t our defense it was our offense and special teams as well. We’ve got to bring all three phases together and we’ll be a great team.”
“The team wasn’t there. The team concept, we didn’t play as a team. We didn’t play as one, which to win football games you’ve got to play as one. You’ve got to play with one heart, one will. We just didn’t come as one.”
Even though the Giants underperformed, Bradshaw took on an increased role, getting career highs of 163 carries, 778 rushing yards and seven touchdowns as he took over the departed Derrick Ward’s role as the No. 2 back behind Brandon Jacobs.
“As much as they rotate me in practice and the first two years I had going to the Super Bowl and being a big part of the Super Bowl, I had to learn a lot towards the end of that Super Bowl year,” Bradshaw said.
“And then the next year got bigger and last year was even a bigger role with sharing that No. 1 spot with Brandon. It’s always a bigger role that comes every year. This year even will be bigger and I’ve just got to prepare for it and be ready for it.”
Bradshaw is hungry to improve on those numbers in his final contract season with the Giants. He is slated to become a free agent following the 2010 season with the possibility of going anywhere.
But replicating the Super Bowl win of his rookie season is foremost on his mind.
“I love to win and it’s always a good thing to win,” Bradshaw said. “The first year (with the Giants) we had a great team and we’ve got a great team now. It just takes everybody.”
Many of the pieces of the 2007 championship team are still in place. The most notable change was the release and subsequent retirement of linebacker Antonio Pierce. But New York has dealt with that through free agency and the draft.
“The Giants take every year one year at a time, to get good players and we got a couple safeties on defense,” Bradshaw said. “We got a couple (defensive) linemen. We’ve got a group of good guys from the draft and I think they can help out our team a whole lot.
“It takes special teams. It takes offense and defense, all three phases of the football game. And I think the Giants have done a great job in the offseason to get us prepared, to get the right group of guys on our team to play.”
That group of guys was the heart of a club that brought a third Vince Lombardi Trophy to New York City.
“I think we’ve still got a championship core,” Bradshaw said. “We’re going to give it a run for our money. We all get paid a good amount of money just to go out and give our heart. That’s all we’ve got to do, is just to go out, give our heart and be one.”
Bradshaw actually outrushed No. 1 back Brandon Jacobs, who was plagued by injuries in 2009. According to Bradshaw, Jacobs is feeling better and ready to regain his 1,000-yard form of 2007 and 2008.
“He’s good. He’s running strong right now,” Bradshaw said. “He had a couple problems with his legs and different things. I think now he feels good and I feel good and I the backfield for the Giants should be great.”
If Jacobs goes down to injury again, Bradshaw is committed to be ready.
“That’s what I strive for, to come in and do my job,” Bradshaw said. “Whatever I’ve got to do for the team, I’ll do it. That’s what it’s all about. Being able to come and be a big part of this offense is going to be ... what I strive for.”
Bradshaw and the rest of the Giants will strive to get back to the playoffs and recapture the magic from January of 2008.
“The Giants did a great job of getting the draft group in and getting them ready,” Bradshaw said. “Just bringing the team together is one of the main things in the offseason for us. I think we’ve got a great group of guys right now on the team and I think we can be a good team this year.”
— Contact Jed Lockett