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 wide receivers.
Who's in: Odell Beckham Jr., Mario Manningham, Trindon Holliday, Marcus Harris, Preston Parker, Corey Washington, Travis Harvey
Who's out: Hakeem Nicks, Louis Murphy Jr.,
The Names: Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, Odell Beckham Jr., Mario Manningham, Trindon Holliday, Marcus Harris, Preston Parker, Corey Washington, Travis Harvey, Julian Talley
LOTS OF NUMBERS, FEW JOBS
11 wide receivers. That's the current tally for the New York Giants headed into training camp, and one that will likely be whittled down to six. However, despite the numbers, the battle for the top six spots seems relatively straightforward for the Giants. Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham Jr. and Mario Manningham, pending his health, all seem like shoo-ins. And, following a burst of success to end the 2013 season, Jerrel Jernigan would also appear to have cemented an early spot, while free agent acquisition, Trindon Holliday, is a potentially important part of the kick/punt return unit.
So, the real training camp battle at the wide receiver position is likely to boil down to which of the remaining wideouts are able to perform well enough to make the practice squad. And to say that group has combined for very little NFL experience would be a bit of an understatement.
Of the group, Julian Talley is perhaps the most well-known largely because, like Victor Cruz, he's both a New Jersey-native and went undrafted out of UMass. He was signed to the Giants' practice squad last year before, ironically, filling in for the injured Cruz over the final two games of the season.
Parker, meanwhile, is the only one of the bunch with an NFL reception, having played in 27 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And although he did have some moments during the offseason workout program, the 27-year-old wideout has not played in the NFL since 2012 and has not caught a pass since 2011.
Washington, Harvey and Harris then round out this inexperienced group — all of whom have no NFL experience to speak of — but do bring youth, speed and, in Washington's case, size to the current 90-man roster. At 6'4'', he's the tallest wideout on the team by at least two inches and that makes him a potential redzone threat.
"I'll work, that's it," Washington said. "Keep showing them I have that 'want to.' Get after it every day, grind hard, and show them I can make plays and that it doesn't matter what school you come from."
But it was actually Marcus Harris who seemed to stand out the most during both Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mandatory mini-camp, showing the team that his 94 reception, 1,223 yard, 19 touchdown season as a rookie with the AFL's Iowa Barnstormers was no fluke. Then again, this is the same guy who led the FCS in receiving yards per game during his senior season.
"We're all getting an equal shot," Harris said during OTAs. "Going out there with Victor means a lot, helps my mentality a lot. Even going out there with the twos, I have to get better. But going out there with Eli and Vic and Rueb, just getting the timing down feels good."
At least for now, Harris seems to be out ahead of the pack and may be primed to push for a spot on the 53-man roster or, at the very least, a spot on the practice squad.
Note: Kris Adams is also on the Giants' official roster, but not taking up a spot as he's currently on the "Reserve/Injured" list.
REPLACING HAKEEM NICKS' PRODUCTION
Despite his struggles in 2013, the collective faith in the wide receiver unit going into 2014 is a bit of a question mark without Hakeem Nicks, who now calls Indianapolis home. He had been a favorite of Eli Manning, a physical presence on the outside and a target capable of hauling in poorly thrown passes thanks to his large, strong hands. Without him, the Giants must find someone else to rely on and those eggs will either go into the basket of Rueben Randle or rookie Odell Beckham Jr.
However, unlike Nicks, who played a very specific role in Kevin Gilbride's offense, Randle and Beckham Jr. will find themselves settling into an entirely different style of offense — one that will see a much faster pace, shorter routes, less option reads and, in some cases, a shift to the inside. And the goal will not necessarily be to replace the kind of player Nicks was, but rather, his production.
“They were talking to me about coming in on the inside,” Randle said earlier this offseason. “Using my big body in the seams. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it.”
Whether he plays on the outside or the inside, the one lingering issue with Randle, who is now entering his third season in the NFL, has been consistency. He and Manning seemed to be on two entirely different worlds a season ago, while Gilbride's complex system appeared a bit overwhelming for him. Now in a more simplistic offense, and with a renewed sense of determination coming into the season, the Giants have seen tremendous strides in both Randle's attitude and continuity with Manning.
"I think Rueben’s whole deal, you look at him, the skill set, the intelligence, he’s got that. For me that battle with him is consistency and I think he knows that and I think he’s addressed it in this offseason in the way he approaches his job," wide receivers coach Sean Ryan said. "I think there’s a difference there. I’ve seen a difference in him, his seriousness towards his work. I expect him to do well."
On the other side of the spectrum, rookie first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. has come in with guns blazing. He's been at team facilities, working with Manning, studying the playbook and watching film whenever the opportunity has presented itself. And despite a minor hiccup due to a hamstring injury during the offseason workout program, he has been full steam ahead with the goal of contributing out of the gate.
"I really have to commend Odell because being the 12th overall pick in the draft is a credit to him and the work he did in the offseason," Archie Manning said during the Manning Passing Academy.
Even Eli, a consummate professional who works tirelessly to improve his craft, has heaped praise on Beckham Jr. for the work he's put in this offseason. And although he does anticipate some rookie mistakes, he also predicted that the former LSU star has a few "big games" ahead of him in 2014.
Finally, don't sleep on either Mario Manningham or Trindon Holliday. Manningham is expecting to return to health by the start of training, while Holliday saw a lot of time on offense throughout the offseason workout program — and was very impressive for a wide receiver who has only two career receptions. He's exceptionally dangerous in space, and if the Giants truly are looking to use their screen game more in 2014 (which we've all been told), wide receiver screens to Holliday will most definitely be in the cards.
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