With the offseason workout program now a thing of the past and the official start to training camp coming up on July 21st (report date and physicals), it's time to look ahead to each positional battle and how they will ultimately shape the New York Giants' final 53-man roster. Today we examine the tight ends.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Fans from across the league, and even casual fans of the New York Giants, could take a look at the team's current tight end depth chart and not recognize a single name. That alone should be enough to feel some empathy for Kevin Gilbride Jr., who will take over coaching the tight ends in 2014, replacing the well-respected Mike Pope, who now calls Dallas home.
“It's fully open right now to all five guys,” Gilbride Jr. has said. “Whoever can step in and play the role the best way, that is the way we need to go. We're not worried about who was drafted where, who was just signed in the offseason, who is a rookie. None of that matters."
The problem for the Giants is that with their offseason program now complete, none of their five tight ends have stepped up and separated themselves from the pack. And while Adrien Robinson did flash some impressive athleticism during Organized Team Activities (OTAs), that's been a common trend over his first three years in the league. Unfortunately, due to a variety of injury issues, he's been able to play in only three regular season games — including a Week 16 game a year ago in which he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff. It was his only play of the season after missing the first 15 weeks with a foot injury.
Like quarterback Ryan Nassib however, General Manager Jerry Reese and the coaches are giving Robinson — who has been dubbed "The JPP of tight ends" — every opportunity possible to not only earn more playing time, but to win the starting job outright.
"We've got these two — Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson — this will be their third year in the program and we expect great things from them," Tom Coughlin said. "They've looked very good. From that standpoint, I feel very good about it."
Despite many of the supportive comments, the Giants have never seemed entirely sold on what they've got. Accordingly, they've brought in free agents Daniel Fells, Kellen Davis and undrafted rookie Xavier Grimble, but none of the three are a sure bet to make the team or solidify the position. It's for that reason the team has continued to examine potential free agent options like Jermichael Finley, who has since been passed on, and potential trade options like Arizona Cardinals tight end Rob Housler.
Of the newest crop, it's actually journeyman Daniel Fells who brings in the most experience, having played in 71 career games (fewer than Davis, but a higher snap %) dating back to his rookie season of 2008 with the St. Louis Rams.
Because of the complete lack of certainty surrounding these five tight ends, each understand it's an open competition and a clean slate for all — especially in a brand new offensive system. And while all have found motivation in the opportunity being presented to them, others, like rookie Xavier Grimble, have taken it one step further and are not only looking to earn the starting job, but become a long-term solution for Big Blue.
"While I was at USC, I think that was one thing we always focused on, was being an all-around tight end, which seems to be sometimes lost in the game," said Grimble, who has spent a lot of time studying Mark Bavaro this offseason. "I want to be the guy who can block and catch passes, have an all-around game."
STARTER STILL NOT ON ROSTER?
The question that will soon need an answer is: "do the Giants have a legitimate starting tight end on the roster?" And not just a pass-catching tight end or a block-first tight end, but a legitimate double-duty tight end who can grasp the system and contribute in every aspect. The problem is there's really been no indication that they do and little else was learned during non-contact practices.
“I think we have a nice group there,” offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. “We have big men in the room, I like the way they think about the game, I like the way they’re moving around on the field. When we get the pads on that’s when we’ll really know where we are.”
Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo & Co. are going to have to learn an awful lot about these players and make a determination on their future in a very short amount of time. It's a key position in the West Coast-style system being brought in — so much so that the tight ends believe they may be Eli Manning's No. 1 target often — and the keys can't be handed off without a certain level of trust.
"The role of the tight end is to get the ball. I mean, we're a big part of this offense," Donnell said. "It's not like we're option No. 3 or option No. 2, we're option No. 1 most of the time. We have a lot of designed plays [for the tight end] to get the ball and make plays."
If the Giants are unable to eventually say "yes, we do have a double-duty starter on the roster" then it becomes a waiting game. As team's begin to trim down their rosters, Jerry Reese will be forced to pick from the scrap heap and cross his fingers that whoever he brings in is better than what the team already has.
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