The Giants’ tight end room has undergone a bit of a change over the last week, as Daniel Fells contracted a MRSA staph infection, effectively ending his season.
Sans Fells, the position is essentially Larry Donnell’s all to his lonesome. And while the young veteran has had flashes of excellence since becoming the starter last season, all too often, he’s been an uneven contributor.
Head coach Tom Coughlin said he knows the tight ends’ room is very green, but he has faith they’ll earn their keep. Other than Donnell, a fourth-year player, the Giants have rookie Will Tye and second-year player Jerome Cunningham on the active roster. Cunningham is dealing with a knee malady, although he was in attendance at Wednesday’s practice.
Big Blue also signed Dominique Jones to their practice squad, following his Tuesday workout. And although a relative unknown, Jones, 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, is one of the league’s better blocking tight ends – an area which the Giants suffer whenever Fells wasn’t on the field.
Such inexperience at the position could be cause for concern for the Giants, but Coughlin said he thinks Donnell will aptly fill the dual-threat role.
“It would be nice [to have more experienced and accomplished tight ends], but those types of players aren’t really available [in free agency]. Larry has played a significant number of snaps here in the early part of the season and he seems to have grown into that role,” said Coughlin. “We can do with what we have here just fine.”
Donnell is second on the team in receptions (15) and fourth in yardage (119), but also owns a paltry yards-per-reception average of 7.9 and has only scored once. Such feeble stats are a far cry from last season’s production when he surprised the league with 63 catches for 623 yards, and six scores. He’ll need to pick up the pace, as offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense has been known to use the tight end as a reliable outlet.
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And facing a 49ers’ defense that presents a unique challenge in their 3-4 [three linemen and four linebackers] defensive look, Donnell is aware he’ll need to step up his play.
“It’s going to be a challenge on Sunday, especially with that 3-4 [defense] they run,” he said. “Those guys [the linebackers] are special players. We’ll need to get up on them early the best we can and do what we can to neutralize them with what we have.”
The loss of Fells will be felt most when the Giants go to their “heavy” package of two of more tight ends. He and Donnell proved to be an efficient tandem, as they played nicely off one another.
“That’s my sidekick. I’m so used to seeing Dan out there with me, so it’s kind of weird. It’s going to be hard to do some of the things that Dan did, because he did so many things, but whatever [extra] that I have to do, I’ll find a way,” Donnell said, adding he noted he’s now the wise veteran in the tight end’s room at the ripe age of 26. “It’s cool to go from one of the youngest to now the oldest. I’m not a very talkative guy, but to be able to answer any questions they may have, it feels good to do so. Some of the things I used to ask Dan, now I’m getting them.”
While Fells’s role as a leader in the meetings room will be passed on to Donnell, the actual on-field role will be filled by a committee that’ll include Cunningham and Tye – and Jones, should he get thrust into action.
Coughlin is anxious to see Cunningham get healthy quickly, but acknowledged that he is especially intrigued to see how Tye responds to more duties. The coach said he liked what he saw from the former Stony BrookUniversity star, who was called into emergency action against Buffalo – even if he didn’t register a stat and dropped his only target.
“The moment isn’t too big for him. He’s a good blocker, [and] did a decent job [in Buffalo],” noted Coughlin. “There were good plays, and maybe one poor play – the drop on second-and-one, which would’ve gotten us the first down. But for his first time, he handled it all well … We’ll need more from him.”
Tye, who became the first player in Stony Brook history to appear in an NFL game, acknowledged that this is no novelty, and that he knows so much is expected of him during his second act and beyond.
“It’s definitely been a hard road, but once you make it here, you’re like, ‘Man, am I really here?’ But once you’re here, you have to continue to do what you need to do to make it,” Tye said. “I know I’m going to be more involved in the game plan [this week], so I have to continue to get better and help the team, whether it’s blocking or receiving.”
When asked if the vets treat him differently now that he has a larger role -- and whether that exempts him from any rookie treatments -- Tye smiled wryly and noted that they’ve been nothing but helpful.
“He [Fells] has been in good spirits. I talked to him [Tuesday] and all he talked about was saying, ‘Hey, don’t drop any more passes, don’t miss no blocks [because] I’m watching every game. He’s been nothing but supportive,” Tye said. “They [Fells and Donnell] also tell me to not think too much and play fast and be relentless ... and just be happy and have fun with it.”
The only fun there is in the NFL is winning, so hopefully for Big Blue’s sake, the neophyte tight ends can help make this Sunday night a joyous time.
Big Blue notes:
- Regarding Fells’s situation, Coughlin said they’re taking it “very serious,” as he hearkened to former Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, who went through the same illness while on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coughlin said Fells was in good spirits during their phone conversation, adding he expects his tight end to be released from the hospital on Thursday.
- The NFL and the NFLPA (Players Association) had the Giants briefed, today, on MRSA and the actions the team should take.
- Coughlin noted that they still do not know where Fells picked up the infection, as it might not have been at facility, due to no visible cuts or scrapes on Fells.
- The tight end Jones wasn’t the only addition, as wideout Julian Talley was also signed to the practice squad.
- Former right guard Chris Snee and former defensive end Osi Umenyiora will be among the four ex-Giants to be inducted into Giants Ring of Honor on Sunday.
- Wideout Odell Beckham Jr. was fined $9,000 for his actions against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday. When asked about the fine, Beckham was rather dismissive: “I’m not really worried about it.” He added that he’s still not sure what the specific infractions where that triggered the fine.