ALBANY, N.Y. — The Giants’ running game has nowhere to go but up in 2012.
While New York won the Super Bowl, it did it with Eli Manning’s arm and a surging, swarming defense.
The running game, once the focal point of the offense in Giants lore, was an embarrassment last season, averaging just 89.2 yards. That was last in the NFL.
Starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw said the ranking was “devastating” and took some of the joy out of winning the league title for the second time in five seasons.
“That’s a tough thing as a running back, actually being the starter and being a big part of it,” Bradshaw said Friday before the Giants held their first practice of the training camp at the University at Albany. “We’ve got to look forward to this year and doing a whole lot better up front, all together as an offense. I think it’ll come.”
The Giants have issues. Starting right tackle Kareem McKenzie was not re-signed and left tackle Will Beatty, who missed the second half of last season with an eye injury, is battling sciatica in his back and is limited for the start of camp.
With Brandon Jacobs playing in San Francisco, the job as the No. 2 running back is open.
Still, the potential is there. If the line can come together and Bradshaw, who has battled foot injuries throughout his career, can stay healthy, the offense has a chance to be explosive when Eli Manning and receiver Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are added to the mix.
Coach Tom Coughlin believes the running game will improve, despite having less time to devote to it because of the current practice rules under the collective bargaining agreement reached last year.
“We rushed it down the stretch — and in the six (playoff) games at the end of the year — better than we did throughout the whole year, but we didn’t have the big plays,” Coughlin said. “The balance factor is always something that we’ve been able to count on.
“We’ve got to get back to that.”
The biggest change on the offensive line will be moving David Diehl to right tackle. He started the season at left guard and moved to left tackle after Beatty was hurt after 10 games.
Diehl isn’t concern about moving to the right side. Throughout his 10-year career with New York, he has started at every position on the offensive line other than center. It’s just a matter of practicing.
He is more concerned with re-establishing the running game, which was tops in the league when the Giants won the Super Bowl after the 2007 season.
“That’s a huge thing for us is to get the run game back going, get it back to the top of the league because that’s a standard that we set around here,” Diehl said. “It’s important to an offense, especially with the weapons we have. If we can get that balance together, there is no telling how good our offense can be.”
In its defense, the offensive line was beset with injuries last season.
New center David Baas was bothered by a neck injury early in the season. Beatty tweaked his back before suffering a detached retina in a game against the Eagles. Diehl played the last two months of the season with a broken hand, while right guard Chris Snee struggled at time and was forced to have minor elbow surgery after last season.
“You can say there are guys moving around and different things like that, but you never make any excuses for anything,” Diehl said. “I know as a group we are making a collective effort to make it (the running game) a strength. Like I said, the guys we have in our huddle and the guys we have outside, the guy we have at quarterback, if we get the running game back, our offense is definitely going to be one of the top in the league.”
The running game should also benefit with the addition of rookie David Wilson, the Virginia Tech product who has big-play potential every time he touches the ball.
“His speed is just tremendous,” Bradshaw said. “He can open up a whole lot of things for our whole offense — outside, inside. He’s an all-around back, a quality back. I think he can execute everything.”
The problem will be getting the running game going in time for the start of the season Sept. 5 against Dallas. Coughlin said in the old days, he could concentrate a long portion of practice to working on the running game and cover other things in the afternoon workout.
However, two-a-day workouts are a thing of the past under the new collective bargaining agreement.
“We didn’t rush the ball well,” Coughlin said. “We’ve got to get that straightened out. We have our work cut out for us. No doubt there.”