The Giants have had a few days to relish an emphatic thrashing of the Redskins, but no one enjoyed that game more than tight end Larry Donnell.
Once an afterthought, Donnell has emerged as the most consistent option quarterback Eli Manning has had this season.
“Coming into this season, he just didn’t have a whole lot of game action, but he’s doing well. I was hoping he would be able to play to this level [and] I was excited about the possibilities for him this year,” Manning said. “He’s played really well. We do a good job of moving him around and putting him in different spots [because] he creates some mismatches.”
Donnell, who recorded seven catches for 54 yards and three touchdowns against the Redskins, said even he didn’t fathom such a fast start.
“You set your goals high, sure, but I didn’t really expect it to come so quick,” said Donnell, who was once a quarterback at Grambling State. “But it has come quickly and I just try to take advantage of all of the opportunities that I’ve had. It’s going well. But like I said, I’m going to continue to work hard.”
Victor Cruz, who knows something about starting from the bottom before rising to fame, gave props to Donnell, marveling at his perseverance and work ethic.
“I don’t think there was ever a specific moment [something clicked]. I think it just was when Larry started getting going [and] started to catch the ball and make some plays for us. I think that is when things kind of shifted and things went in our way a little bit,” said Cruz. “It was definitely something that we needed to happen — someone to step up and make some big plays and Larry Donnell has done that for us. … I know exactly what type of athlete he is [because] I see him in practice each and every day. I see the type of plays that he makes, and I know it is just a matter of him getting his opportunity and him making the best of it. I knew once he got it this year, with the style of offense that we have, it definitely makes well for an athletic tight end to do some positive things. I think he filled that void for us.”
Most everyone within the locker room – and among the Big Blue faithful – have been pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it was because while the Giants were busy replenishing their offensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks and running backs, there wasn’t anyone of substance added at tight end.
The Giants mainly stayed pat, with only journeyman Daniel Fells making the final 53-man roster to join holdovers Donnell and Adrien Robinson. But Fells has been a solid contributor with three receiving touchdowns in four games, and Donnell is looking like a diamond in the rough.
Head coach Tom Coughlin, however, noted he never thought of Donnell as a surprise, because the 6-foot-6 tight end was brought to the Giants for a reason.
“We’ve always had that [success] in the back of our minds because of his size and athleticism. Grooming him into being the all-purpose tight end, there’s a lot of responsibilities there [and] there’s a lot to have to accomplish, the blocking part of it, the knowledge of the game, the routes and how to run them, but he’s getting it,” said Coughlin. “There’s a young, inexperienced player that’s eager to learn and has athleticism, has speed, has outstanding hands, so we’ve always had a high level of expectation for this player and how he can develop. He’s gotten started along those lines. There’s a long way to go, but it doesn’t change what we think this player can be.”
The humble Donnell couldn’t be more proud.
“It’s a dream come true,” Donnell said. “Just sitting here thinking about it in this moment right now, it’s still a dream come true. I’m just still working hard to focus on getting better and better every day. … I’m just trying to stay the course, work hard every day to help the team continue getting better so I can continue to contribute like that.”
Big Blue notes …
»Head coach Tom Coughlin said rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr. “did a little bit more” than last week’s session.
As far as doing anything at all in an actual game, Coughlin said he still needs to see more from the wideout with the bum hamstring:
“There are a lot of things,” Coughlin said. “He has to practice. He has to practice consecutive days [and] he has to be able to show us that he’s not only strong enough, but can endure day after day. So there’s some room here to make some progress and impress everybody.”
»Injured linebacker Jon Beason also got some work done. Coughlin said Beason “seemed to be OK. He did a little bit.”
»Donnell is the first Giants tight end with three touchdown receptions in a game since Joe Walton 52 years ago.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.