Larry Donnell has the inside track at starting tight end. Credit: Getty Images
While head coach Tom Coughlin wants his team to think every starting position is up for grabs, the reality is most are already etched in stone. One group still very much a mystery, however, is the tight end position.
Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps. Right behind him on the depth chart is the well-traveled Daniel Fells, a first-year Giant who has been getting the majority of goal-line looks along with fellow nomad Kellen Davis whenever the Giants run their “heavy” offensive sets.
Adrien Robinson, the man general manager Jerry Reese dubbed “the [Jason Pierre-Paul] of tight ends” following the 2012 draft due to his freakish athleticism, has been in tight end purgatory.
“I think, right now, they’ve all got a shot,” said tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride. “They’re all very good in certain areas and maybe not as efficient or as good in other areas. In order to become that all-around tight end — and start — they need to continue to develop.”
Robinson doesn’t lack for confidence despite sitting fifth on the depth chart.
“Time will tell, but there’s a reason I’m still around. People always wonder why I’ve stayed around [and] the reason is they want to keep me around,” said Robinson. “I feel like they believe in me, and I believe in myself, so this [Hall of Fame game] will be the time to prove it. I’m so ready to go out there and show everyone why [I’m still on the roster].”
After two lost NFL seasons, Robinson senses new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s new uptempo offense is up his alley.
“I think I can play the game really well. I can block, I can run, I’m big [6-foot-4] and I weigh enough [265 pounds]. I feel like I have all the pieces. It’s just a matter of bringing everything together,” said Robinson. “And that’s why this is a huge opportunity. ... Of course you want to start as a rookie, but I couldn’t ask for a better situation than what I’m in right now. This [offense] is completely different than last year’s. I like this one. Now, I just have to make the most of it.”
Gilbride tempered his enthusiasm for Robinson.
“He’s been good and bad. [Robinson’s play] has been inconsistent and it needs to improve in that regard,” said Gilbride. “He has flashes of great things and shows you what he can do if he can continue it and continue to develop, but he needs to continue to develop in order to help us.”
Gilbride’s assessment of the current leader, Donnell, wasn’t as biting.
“I think any time you get experience playing in the course of a game and being in the limelight, so to speak, it’s great experience for you,” Gilbride said when asked about the many hats Donnell wore last season as a traditional tight end, H-back and hybrid fullback. “It helps for sure, no doubt about it, but he is still a very young player. ... The development still needs to continue there as well for his poise and execution in the course of the games.”
The bright side for Big Blue supporters is that Reese has made an art form of bringing in unheralded tight ends, having the coaching staff develop them and making it work — save for the failed Brandon Myers experience last season.
Prior to 2007, not many had heard of Kevin Boss, but he was a key contributor for the 2007 Super Bowl champion squad. Boss’s successor, Jake Ballard, was another unknown until he helped Big Blue win the Super Bowl following the 2011 season. And a year after Ballard departed, Martellus Bennett shined after an underwhelming stint with the Cowboys.
Big Blue notes ...
» Reese is hoping one of the tight ends can have a Julius Thomas impact. Thomas, the athletic Pro Bowl tight end for the Broncos, burst on the scene last season as he caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns after catching just one pass in his first two NFL seasons. “Hopefully we could have a guy that can step out of the shadows and do that for us,” Reese said.
» Giants quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf has set a goal of 70 percent completion rate for Eli Manning this season. To better put that lofty number in perspective, Manning’s single-season career best is 62.9 percent and he has only completed 70 percent in a game 15 times in the regular season. But Manning has completed 70 percent of his passes in three postseason games — including Super Bowl XLVI.
»Return specialist and part-time receiver Trindon Holliday was putting in some work with the offense in the earlier portions, but was later seen on the sidelines with his right leg wrapped.
» Rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) was not at practice today, as he was receiving treatment inside the facilities before making the trek to New York to see the doctors for more testing.
» Injured linebacker Jon Beason (foot) feels he can be ready for opening night in Detroit: “There is no reason now to think I won’t be there, based on how I feel.”
» Running back David Wilson (neck), who was finally cleared to fully practice, was one of the many players fielding punts during special teams drills. Perhaps the best news about Wilson’s neck is since the Giants donned full pads and began hitting, the diminutive yet solid Wilson (5-foot-9, 205 pounds) took two huge hits — one from hulking safety Cooper Taylor (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) and another from hard-hitting rookie linebacker Devon Kennard (6-foot-3, 251 pounds) — and popped right back up as if nothing happened.
» The Giants claimed offensive lineman Mark Asper off waivers Monday from the Bills and waived offensive tackle DeMarcus Love.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter@TBone8.