WARREN - If the shoulder pads Mario Manningham wears next season seem larger than normal, it might be because of the chip he has on his shoulder.
Manningham, a 2005 Warren G. Harding graduate, played in just seven games and caught four passes for 26 yards as a rookie receiver for the New York Giants last season. A leg injury curtailed his work in training camp, and he wasn't able to assume a steady role in the rotation.
It wasn't the start media members and fans expected for Manningham, a third-round draft choice and twice an All-Big Ten first-team selection at the University of Michigan. Quiet by nature, he doesn't like to open up publicly, but that seems to have changed.
Manningham, who signed autographs Saturday at the Toyota car dealership on Youngstown Road, has every intention of proving skeptics wrong in 2009. He's anxious to begin training camp Aug. 2, and there's no doubt in his mind that he'll join Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon as one of the top three targets for quarterback Eli Manning.
"Yeah, I'm playing with a chip on my shoulder. I have a lot to prove," Manningham said. "I want to show what I can do. You know how people can talk. They say, 'Is he this or is he that?' I know what I can do, and my team knows what I can do. Now it's time for me to go out and play and show the world what I can do."
If anything, Manningham seems to be using the criticism as a springboard to next season.
"The criticism from last year, I actually kind of liked it," he said. "I like when people doubt me and say this and that because I know what I can do. I hate when people say they know what they're talking about, when they really don't know too much."
The Giants have made several changes during the offseason, including among the group of receivers. Plaxico Burress, who missed the last six games of last season after accidentally shooting himself in a leg at a New York City club, has been let go. Beyond Smith and Hixon on the depth chart are Sinorice Moss and first-round draft choice Hakeem Nicks.
Burress played a big role in the 2007 season, when the Giants defeated the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl. His absence opens a door for Manningham, who hasn't set goals for receptions, touchdowns or total yards.
"My goal, no matter how long I'm out there, is never have my man make the tackle," he said. "I don't care about the passes. If you're a wide receiver, you automatically know you can catch and you can automatically run a little bit, but blocking takes heart, and not everybody has that."
Manningham won't say that missing most of last season was a good thing (what receiver doesn't want to be on the field?). He did admit that sitting could prove beneficial in the long run.
"People forgot that I had another year (of college eligibility)," Manningham said. "I'm thankful that I had a chance to sit back and watch how they read defenses from the sideline. How they read the corner and his stance and everything. Those are old-school tips from the vets."
Playing in the largest media market in the NFL can be intimidating, even for veterans. It's hard to imagine what the pressure is like for a rookie.
"You have to watch what you do," said Manningham of New York media spotlight. "You have to carry yourself well. On the field you have on a Giants' jersey and off the field you have on a Giants' jersey."
The brief time off between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp has given Manningham a chance to spend time with friends and family. He's made sure to follow the advice of Giants coach Tom Coughlin by working out on a regular basis, which includes running the hill at Quinby Park.
It's all about being in great shape and proving the skeptics wrong.
"I didn't think about numbers in high school," Manningham said. "I didn't think about numbers in middle school. I'm just ready to play."