Jake Ballard making fans forget the Boss

Jake Ballard has surprised many in stepping in to fill the role vacated by Kevin Boss.

If offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was told prior to the season that unknown Jake Ballard would be the one to fill in for the defected Kevin Boss and not former high-round draft pick Travis Beckum, he’d have laughed. But here it is in Week 8 and it’s Ballard who has shocked and awed all within the facilities.   

“I thought he would be a good blocker. You saw a big strong kid who could hold his own with defensive ends and outside linebackers,” said Gilbride. “[But] the real surprise has been his ability to contribute in the passing game and catching the ball [because] somehow he just gets open … He’s taken basketball skills and size and applied them to his position.”     

The unassuming Ballard was on the practice squad all of last season and was thought of as a plodder because of his size (6-foot-6, 275 pounds), but he quickly climbed the depth chart once Boss left via free agency to Oakland. Since becoming the go-to “receiving” tight end, Ballard has improved every week. His 15 catches ranks fifth on the team, while his 273 receiving yards ranks third — ahead of starting wideout Mario Manningham.

Ballard, who also has two touchdowns, has stayed humble, but at the same time shows the confidence that made him a locker room favorite during his time at Ohio State.    

“It’s not really a shock,” he said. “I’ve always had the confidence in myself and knew what I could do.”     

Earning the trust of such a respected and accomplished quarterback as Eli Manning wasn’t easy, according to Ballard. Manning agreed and said his early uneasiness to throw to the tight end has dissipated by each passing day.     

“He has a good ways to grow and hopefully he will continue to get better. He has contributed to our offense because he has done such a good job running after the catch,” Manning said. “A lot of tight ends catch five balls for 31 yards because they are catching all those short routes, but that’s where he has helped us some. He has been able to break a few tackles and dodge a couple people.”     

Manning added he didn’t want to label Ballard as “a surprise” because it would sound as a slight, as if the Giants didn’t know what they had. But he admitted it’s been fun watching him progress from practice squad guy to a viable passing game option.    

“Jake’s done a great job. He’s come in and he’s worked hard,” Manning said, noting Ballard’s football IQ. “He has a good feel for what we’re trying to do offensively and he’s doing a good job getting open and understanding the coverages and route options and running them well.”     

Ballard’s position coach, Michael Pope, said while Ballard and Boss are similar in size that’s about where the similarities end. Pope added that Ballard was known as a “blocking” tight end coming out of college, while Boss was more athletic than his 6-foot-8 frame appeared.     

“It’s almost exactly a reverse. We knew Kevin was very athletic and can run but we were concerned with how well he was able to block on the line of scrimmage,” Pope said. “But Jake is about 275 pounds and when you saw him at Ohio State, he was on the goal line and things like that. You never saw him run 30 yards down the field because they never did that with him. We brought him in as a blocker and a guy who has a real thick body … at Ohio State his role was to stay in as a blocker but he’s developed into a pretty nice role here in the passing game that will help us.”

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Pope said comparing Ballard to Boss is accurate in size only. He’d rather compare Ballard to another popular former Giants tight end.

“The thing that is impressive about him is that he has a very high test score,” Pope said. “He reminds me a lot of Jeremy Shockey in this aspect [because] he can come off the field and tell you what everyone was doing around him on the play. He has a really good feel of what is going on around him and Jeremy was the same way. He [Shockey] had the great football mentality because he has the passion for it. He [Ballard] has a real good passion for the game and is a lot of fun to work with.”   

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