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Shockey Struggles in Down and Out Pattern

Giants Tight End Trying to Find Stride After Controversial Comments, Rib Injury

By Rachel Nichols

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, September 19, 2003; Page D06

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 18 -- There is a stillness to Jeremy Shockey these days. The New York Giants tight end has learned the slightest ripple can grow into a tidal wave, so he tries not to make too many sudden movements, at least when he's not on the football field.

Today, for instance, he heard Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington's comment that the Redskins are not scared of him, even though he beat them nearly single-handedly toward the end of last season. Shockey has a gregarious howl that can echo through a locker room, but this time he merely chuckled softly, as if even his laugh was encased in cotton balls.

"They shouldn't be [scared]. Why would you be? I haven't been playing good ball, so why would you be afraid of me?" he said, crooking his head back, as if the ghosts of his poor performance against Dallas on Monday were sitting on a stool nearby. Shockey had played uncharacteristically tentative football against the Cowboys, dropping a wide-open pass in the end zone and missing several other seemingly easy catches, and he figured that the Giants' next opponents, the Redskins had noticed.

"To be honest with you, they're never scared of me, those are great competitors, guys like LaVar Arrington and Jesse Armstead," he said. "I think they're two prime examples of guys who have no respect for anyone, and they shouldn't. That's a good way to play the game."

It is, in fact, the way Shockey has typically played the game. Last season, he mixed bravado with a bone-crushing style to become one of the most enthralling players in the league. He earned a spot in the Pro Bowl by making 74 receptions -- 11 coming in a rain-soaked game against Washington in November -- and seemed poised to become one of the NFL's more enduring superstars.

That may very well still happen, but the path is not as clear as it once was, or at least not as smooth. Shockey had a difficult offseason after making controversial comments in several magazine articles, and in the preseason, he cracked his ribs. The two blows made him more cautious, both on and off the field. He is much more choosy in his dealings with the New York media these days, and in games, he is much more protective.

"I find myself not running as fast as I can because I don't want to get tired for the next play, and that's because of the ribs," he said. Still, it's more than that.

"I was in a rhythm last year, and I was playing good football, the timing felt good and I was real comfortable with what I was doing. Now it seems like my rhythm isn't as good as it was last year. To me, it's frustrating, because it's never happened to me before."

Shockey's struggles could be a particular problem if the Giants continue to strain under their inexperienced and injured offensive line. Left tackle Luke Petitgout is expected back in the lineup after missing the last week with back spasms, but if New York quarterback Kerry Collins continues to feel as much pressure as he has in the first two games of the season, he will need as many receiving options as possible.

That means Shockey, in turn, will need to cut his way through the increasingly thick blanket of coverage he's been getting -- after taking many teams by surprise as a rookie last year, he has seen opponents rotate defensive plays his way and limit his on-field movement.

But it also means he will have to change his mindset slightly, at least according to his teammates. Defensive end Michael Strahan said he realizes Shockey has endured some criticism of late, but he hopes Shockey doesn't change his fundamentally brash persona.

"Jeremy just needs to learn what he can joke about. He's always been his own worst enemy with that," Strahan said. "But I think Jeremy is a young guy who is learning, and trust me, give him time and he'll figure it out.

"With him, he's under such a microscope that if he doesn't make every play perfectly, then people look at it as a failure. But as his teammates, we know he's the best in the league at what he does. He makes some mistakes, so what? He'll make up for them."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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