Players change teams every offseason in the NFL. But when players sign with a division rival, it seems to raise the stakes between the two teams.
Last year, the New York Giants signed two former Redskins, Antonio Pierce and Tim Hasselbeck. With the Redskins set to play the Giants in New York this Sunday, the issue of what Pierce and Hasselbeck know--and what they don't know--of the Redskins' schemes could be a factor in how both teams approach the game.
Head coach Joe Gibbs said on Monday that it was one of the first items on his to-do list in preparing for Sunday's game.
"You have Tim, who we know is very bright and very sharp," Gibbs said. "And Antonio understands almost everything we were doing last year with our defense. Both our offensive and defensive staffs met and addressed this. We said, 'Let's check off all the things that could be a problem, such as signals. What will we need to do to try and change up things?'"
Pierce started for the Redskins at middle linebacker last season, replacing the injured Mike Barrow in the lineup. He quickly became a favorite of assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, logging a career-high 160 tackles (109 solo), two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Hasselbeck backed up Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey last season. He saw his most significant NFL action in 2003 when he replaced an injured Ramsey and completed 95-of-177 passes for 1,012 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Redskins had hoped to keep both Pierce, an unrestricted free agent last offseason, but he received an offer from the Giants that was more than the Redskins were willing to spend. Hasselbeck was granted his release after the Redskins drafted rookie quarterback Jason Campbell in the first round last April.
Said Gibbs: "We will have to be very careful because both of those guys are very sharp. So you know they're going to use everything that they can remember."
Added linebacker Marcus Washington: "Antonio probably has told them some things. We can't worry about that."
During a conference call with Washington, D.C.-area reporters on Wednesday, Coughlin downplayed the notion that the Giants would have an advantage given what Pierce and Hasselbeck know about the Redskins' schemes.
"There are players all over the league who have played elsewhere because of free agency," Coughlin said. "Quite frankly, you may get some information that can help you, but you still have to go play the game."
Coughlin was effusive in his praise of Pierce, just as Williams was last year. The Giants' have the NFL's 31st-ranked defense, but Pierce has continued to play at a high level. He leads the defense with 49 tackles (43 solo) and passes defended with seven. He also has one interception.
"Antonio studies the game hard and lives and breathes it," Coughlin said. "He's a guy who will grab other players and take them into a film session. He wants to know everything he possibly can about the [opposing team]. He wants to be involved in how the defense gets called."
Giants' quarterback Eli Manning, now in his second NFL season, said he has already chatted with Hasselbeck about the Redskins, and that he expects to talk with Pierce as well.
"Tim and I talked a little bit in meeting, but not a whole lot," Manning said. "He gave me a heads-up on what he knows. I'll try to talk to Antonio Pierce also. The middle linebacker always knows a lot. I'll try to get some reads on a few things."
No one has mentioned it, but the Redskins also must face a former teammate on special teams. Chad Morton, who returned kicks for Washington last year, is now the Giants' primary punt return specialist.
Coughlin said of Morton: "Chad scored a touchdown in the very first game of the year. He's a highly energetic guy and he's very competitive. He's very good for our football team. I just wish he had more opportunities with the ball."