Running back battle features prominently in Giants camp
The Giants held another mandatory minicamp workout on Wednesday, but with much less fanfare now that all the healthy and able bodies — save for Victor Cruz — have been accounted for.
But for the players who are under contract and obligated to be at the facilities, this final phase of the offseason program was a chance to leave an impression on the coaching staff until the team reconvenes in late July.
Wideout Rueben Randle said he’s happy to be under the mandatory edict because now the 2013-14 season feels as if it’s real, as jobs and depth-chart status are on the line.
“It’s good to be back and have it this way [mandatory],” said Randle, who is battling to be the No. 3 wideout. “It’s starting to feel real now. Guys who are here are competing and fighting for spots, and getting their right frame of mind back.”
One of the prominent battles is at running back between second-year player David Wilson and veteran Andre Brown. Wilson, who was the Giants’ first-round pick last season, said it doesn’t really matter who is officially named the starter because both will be needed extensively this season.
“I’m not worried about the carries, or yards, or whatever stats. It doesn’t mean as much as winning games,” Wilson said. “What matters is us working together to make the running game effective and the passing game effective, because when you balance out the two you can win more games. … We definitely need to win more games because the Super Bowl is here this year, and that’s where I want to be.”
While it’s rare to see a starting running back double as the team’s ace return man, Wilson is also angling for that job.
“I definitely want to be a part of [kickoff return],” said Wilson. “That’s one of the parts of the game that I’ve liked the most since I started playing football and that was age 8. … Any way I can help the team I’m willing to do it.”
Doing whatever it takes to field a winning team was all Brown wanted to talk about as well. The four-year veteran was having a solid campaign last year before being put on the temporary injured-reserve list with a leg injury. He said that setback made him gain a greater appreciation for playing football after sitting out a major chunk of the season.
He also acknowledged that even at only 26 years old, he’s now the elder statesman in the running back’s meeting room, which means he needs to take on a larger leadership role.
“Being around Ahmad [Bradshaw] and Brandon [Jacobs} early in my career, they were leaders, and now being here I’m more of a vocal leader, so I have to take a step back [in disbelief] sometimes,” said Brown. “Those guys carried the leadership of the [running back’s] room, but now I’m the oldest guy in that room so I have to become more of a vocal leader and make sure those guys know the plays, protection and steps. I guess I’m finally maturing enough to be a more effective leader.”
Brown also offered that while it’d be great to be named the starter, he agreed with Wilson that the label won’t matter much since the duo will likely share the carries.
“We’re totally different backs, but I feel we complement each other well. I’m a big back who runs downhill and Dave is explosive and more a scat who can take it outside,” said Brown, who then laughed when trying to paraphrase a famous movie line from “The Karate Kid” to get his pointy across clearer. “Me, I’d rather sweep the knee. But I think we’re going to be a good 1-2 punch.”
Big Blue notes …
» It was an otherwise slow news day at the facilities, as most stars declined to talk with the media. But perhaps the highlight of the day came in the locker room as Pro Bowl safety Stevie Brown (Michigan) and cornerback Terrell Thomas (USC) carried on a spirited debate about which college was better. Thomas got the ball rolling when he noticed a small UM contingent around his locker that included Brown and a few scribes who are UM alums: “Don’t want no Michigan people around my locker,” Thomas quipped. “We’re not talking Michigan in these parts.” Brown then cracked about all the violations that USC racked up over the years, leading Thomas to laugh and say, “I got my ring still. I was even in a parade. I don’t know who gave back what, because I’ve got mine still.”
Thomas is coming back from a third torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee, which has likely robbed him of his explosiveness. One remedy for him to still be a contributing member of the team is moving him to safety. Thomas said he’s perfectly fine with the switch if asked, because all he cares about is actually getting on the field again.
“I’m whatever they need me to be. I just want to play football,” Thomas said. “At this point in my career it’s all about getting healthy and getting on the field and contributing in any way. If that’s a leadership role, a safety role, nickel, corner, kickoff — I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do.”
Thomas has only been doing individual work at practice this spring, although he said he’s able to do “everything on the field.” He won’t get a chance to prove himself, though, until camp.”
» Not every starting position is up for grabs, obviously, but for the guys who are battling for key backup roles, now is the time to take these workouts slightly more serious than the previous voluntary gatherings. Veteran quarterback David Carr, who is battling fellow veteran Curtis Painter and rookie Ryan Nassib for the right to hold Eli Manning’s clipboard, said he’s mentally and spiritually in a “good place” at this particular time and is actually enjoying the competition — even if it ultimately means one of the aforementioned backups takes his cushy spot. Carr said he “doesn’t mind helping” Nassib, even if it ultimately means the kid could take his backup job.
“When you’re here 12 years you just see things differently,” Carr said. “It’s not a negative at all. I’m super happy for Ryan. I think he’s a great kid. I think that he’s going to have a great career and I’m going to do everything I can to make him a good football player. If it’s in the meeting room and experience wise, I’m going to do the same thing with Eli. [Helping] is not a negative at all.”
Carr admittedly said he was “selfish” upon coming out of Fresno State as the No. 1 overall pick by the Texans back in 2002, but time — and past failures — has helped him appreciate being in the league this long.
“There’s some good [quarterbacks] that don’t even have jobs … I’m blessed,” Carr said.
Carr was very transparent when discussing his immaturity as a hot-shot rookie. He noted that he “would’ve freaked out 10 years ago” had he been on a team that went out and drafted a rookie quarterback to battle him in camp.
Carr also said he had multiple offers to leave the Giants and at least compete for a starting job during free agency a couple seasons ago, but was happy to return and back up Manning, even though Manning never misses a snap:
“If I’m going to go on the field, I’d rather go on the field with the Super Bowl champions than a team I’m not sure about,” Carr said. “I’d rather be in a system that I’ve spent a good part of my career in, where I do feel like a coach on the field. I feel like I can come in and play and run the team from the line of scrimmage. It doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to get to that point from where I’m at right now. If I was going to another team and trying to learn another system, I’m too old for that. … I’ve been in too many bad situations.”
» Linebacker Mark Herzlich finds himself in a good situation as he’s in the midst of a battle for the starting middle linebacker position. Herzlich, who’s impressed the coaching staff during team drills, said he thinks he’s making a strong push to be the starter and hopes his veteran teammates feel the same.
“I feel like a starter. … A big part of feeling like a starter is people around you feeling like you’re a starter as well,” Herzlich said.
» Brown is an impatient man, and said he’s already looking past these minicamps and yearning for some real action.
“Obviously in OTAs you’re working and fine-tuning your craft right now, but I’m really anxious to getting some pads on and hitting somebody because there’s a lot of build-up for that. … It’s just tag right now,” Brown said. “They’re not really [hitting]. But we’ll start to build that chemistry in camp when we have pads on and [the offensive line] can align themselves and fire out and make real holes for us. Right now it’s just flag football.”
Wilson sounded just as anxious to seek contact.
“That’s the [main] area for a running back to break tackles and get yards after the contact but right now we’re just doing two-hand touch,” Wilson said. “But the thing now, we still have to finish our runs, no matter how many people touch or grab you. You need to still finish [running all the way down the field] so at least you’ll be in shape. You can try and simulate physical contact so when training camp starts you’ll be able to adjust.”
Wilson said despite the limited contact, he’s been putting in a lot of work on pass protection.
“I didn’t have too many opportunities last year to show that [pass-blocking] capability. But that’s an area that I need to show the coaches that I can handle,” Wilson said. “That’s an area any running back in the NFL needs to show that they can handle. But I’m taking steps towards that so I can be ready for the season.”
» Bradshaw signed with the Colts this week, but Wilson had nothing but praise and appreciation for the one season he spent as Bradshaw’s teammate.
“He left a great impression on us and we’ve got some big shoes to fill because he’s a tough running back and he did all the things necessary for the Giants to win games, winning two Super Bowls,” Wilson said.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for live updates throughout minicamp.