The Giants may be the defending Super Bowl champions, but it doesn’t mean they are infallible.
Due to free agency, their depth chart has taken a hit and Big Blue hopes the new rookie class can help replenish the loss of veteran leaders — specifically on offense. Although real judgments can’t be made on the rookies until they put pads on in training camp and play in preseason games, it seems the Giants secured two players at the top of the draft who will re-energize the offense in 2012.
“You hope so,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “It’s definitely needed. We lost a lot of guys. We lost five starters the year before on offense [and] lose a couple other guys. You certainly need to start to replenish the troops. Again, it looks like you have an explosive guy in the running back and what you see on film, it looked like you had a receiver that is capable of making some deep catches, running by some people.”
The running back is first-round pick David Wilson of Virginia Tech and the receiver is Rueben Randle of LSU. Both were deemed “NFL-ready” by the pundits and both have big expectations to fill voids left by the San Francisco defections of Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham.
Gilbride said he doesn’t want to put too much stock in rookies running around in shorts, jerseys and helmets but added he’s excited about the potential of the two in the lineup.
“He looks very fast, which we knew going in,” Gilbride said of Wilson. “But to actually see it on the field, it was — I’m trying to think of the right word — encouraging, exciting. Both of those things seem to come to mind. He looks like if he has a hole, he’ll hit it and has a chance to do some damage. … After one day I don’t want to go overboard on him, but he did look like if there was a hole, he’s capable of turning a five-yard gain into a big play. That was good to see.”
Gilbride noted the daunting task Wilson has in trying to replace Jacobs, who was mainly used as the short-yardage back. But Wilson is only 5-foot-9, 205 pounds and is hardly the hammer that Jacobs’s 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame was.
“It’s impossible to predict it right now,” Gilbride said. “Again, you saw a change from a 270-pound back to a 200-pound back. Just from the size, if we lined up coming out of the bus, we’re probably not as impressive as we once were. You’ve seen, as tough as he is, Ahmad [Bradshaw] has a tough time lasting a whole season with all of the problems he’s had physically. … Whether it’s Danny Ware substituting in or it’s Andre Brown or it’s David Wilson, somebody is going to have to play that position. There’s no question.”
Randle is in the same boat as Wilson in that he’s trying to fill a void left by Manningham, who will go down in Giants’ lore as making one of the most clutch receptions in Super Bowl history. Randle, though, said he’s ready to meet the challenge.
“You have to take full advantage of it,” Randle said. “They brought me up for a reason. It’s my job to go out there and do what they brought me in to do, which is make plays.”
Gilbride also gave an initial thumbs up to Randle, who will be competing with Jerrel Jernigan, Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon for the slot receiver position.
“He looks smooth, [but] he’s obviously thinking [too much], like they all are,” Gilbride said of Randle. “So maybe you don’t yet see the explosiveness that we expect, [but] we know we’ll see it down the road. But in terms of going deep and just going down the field, he looked pretty good and did the things that we needed him to do, which was go catch the ball when we threw it to him.”
The Giants’ receiving corps blossomed last year, as a combination of Eli Manning’s career season coincided with the emergence of unknown wideout Victor Cruz. But with the loss of Manningham, the unproven careers of Jernigan and Barden and Hixon coming off yet another torn ACL, questions abound.
Whether it’s Randle or one of the young veterans, Gilbride hopes someone steps up to give Cruz and Hakeem Nicks some relief.
“Certainly Hakeem can go deep, but you need that third component so that when people start clamping down on Cruz and Nicks, you got a guy that if it’s one-on-one has the ability to get over the top and hurt people like Manningham did,” Gilbride said. “Whether it’s Jernigan, whether it’s Ramses Barden or whether it’s Rueben Randle, we need somebody to be able to do that. … [Randle] looks, between his size and what looked like the speed he had on film, that he has the potential to do that. I have my fingers crossed.”
Head coach Tom Coughlin also praised the new class for their eagerness to get into mini-camp on time and added he thinks they might’ve drafted immediate help.
“Yeah, these are some big kids that are eager to learn,” Coughlin said of the rookie class, soon singling out the wideout. “I was very impressed by Randle out on the field this morning. He’s going to have to be NFL ready.”
Big Blue notes
»The rookies’ heads are all obviously swimming with an overload of information, but for a couple of them, they at least have some familiarity to ease the stress. Wilson and cornerback Jayron Hosley were teammates at Virginia Tech for three years and were roommates during their freshmen seasons. The former Hokies dormed together this weekend and shared NFL notes during their downtime: “That’s exactly how it goes,” Wilson said following a recent practice when asked if the two are sharing stories, good and bad. “He is on defense and I’m on offense, so we kind of get both sides. We asked each other, ‘How is it out there, man? Is it similar [to college]?’ He said, ‘No.’ Then he asked me, and I said, ‘No, I’m confused, too.’ So we are all going through it together.”
» Wilson may be the most physically-gifted of the rookie class, as the 5-foot-9 running back has an astonishing 41-inch vertical jump that rivals anything an NBA player can do. Wilson can also give star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul a run for most athletic Giant, as he’s also a master at the backflips (“I did 13 with no hands and 21 with hands”). Wilson has also dunked a football over the goal post backwards from a standing start, and his legend at Virginia Tech grew when he chased down a rabbit and caught it with is bare hands.
»Randle might not possess those freakish abilities, but added he’s “NFL ready” and “taking the expectations seriously.” Randle will be trying to fill Manningham’s shoes on the field while literally filling out the wideout’s jersey, as he’ll don the same No. 82 jersey that Manningham once made famous.
»The Giants opened their rookie mini-camp as one of only three teams to have signed all of its seven draft picks. They also had eight rookie free agents attend — four apiece on offense and defense.
»The draft choices who signed contracts are: running back David Wilson of Virginia Tech, wide receiver Rueben Randle of LSU, cornerback Jayron Hosley of Virginia Tech, tight end Adrien Robinson of Cincinnati, offensive linemen Brandon Mosley of Auburn and Matt McCants of UAB and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn of North Carolina State. Kuhn was the only rookie to not participate in the mini-camp due to a non-football related leg laceration he suffered in the past week.
»The offensive free agents the Giants secured are wide receivers David Douglas of Arizona and Julien Talley of Massachusetts, fullback Joe Martinek of Rutgers and guard Stephen Goodin of Nebraska-Kearney.
»The defensive free agents are defensive ends Adewale Ojomo of Miami and Matt Broha of Louisiana Tech and safeties Jojo Nicolas of Miami and Janzen Jackson of McNeese State.
»Martinek, from Hopatcong, N.J., is a peculiar story as he was the state’s 2007 Gatorade National Player of the Year recipient and the state’s all-time leading rusher. The former Jersey star said “being a New Jersey native really can’t hurt. … A Jersey guy playing in Jersey? You can’t beat it.” Martinek was a star running back in high school and switched to fullback full-time during his sophomore year at Rutgers. He acknowledged he’ll have a better chance at making the roster as a fullback: “I’m taking it one step at a time. Whatever the coaches decide is fine with me.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for more offseason news on Big Blue.