5 New York Giants Players Who Will Surprise During Training Camp
Summer training camp often brings out the best in a player, especially if that player is on the bubble or in a competition for a starting job.
With the New York Giants’ management having done an excellent job of creating competition on virtually every unit, there could be some surprises emerging from players who some might have counted out.
There is also the chance that some little-known players (as of now) might get the chance to show just enough to stick, even if it's on the practice squad.
Let’s look at five such players with the potential to open a few eyes this summer.
Tight End Adrien Robinson
Take one look at tight end Adrien Robinson, the Giants’ fourth-round pick in 2012, and it’s not hard to see why the front office fell in love with him as a prospect.
Robinson has good size (6’4”, 264 pounds), is athletic and seems to possess better than average strength to hold up as an in-line blocker.
What Robinson hasn’t had so far is luck. Last summer, he had finally earned a chance to convince the coaching staff that he could be the team's future at tight end when a sprained foot suffered in the preseason finale ended up costing him much of the season.
When Robinson did return—the fact that the team didn’t place him on injured reserve despite the apparent severity of his injury says a lot about how they viewed him as a prospect—he was again put back on the shelf after suffering a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff coverage in Week 16.
This year, a more mature Robinson told reporters that he finally understands what it takes to become a pro’s pro and has rededicated himself to his craft.
“I stay extra every day, stay and get extra film,” he said of the changes he made to his offseason preparation.
“I’m on the elliptical every day trying to get my weight down more so I’m just doing a lot of things differently. I feel like I’m more mature, I’m more of a professional now, so I have that approach.”
Robinson, like many other players on offense, has also been rejuvenated by the offensive system being installed by Ben McAdoo.
“It’s completely different. The tight end gets a lot more looks--we move around a lot more in the backfield, (and run) different routes.
“I feel like it’s more fitted for the things that I’m good at.”
With a simpler system in place that supposedly plays to his strengths, if Robinson can stay on the field, he could very well surprise a few of the doubters out there who are of the opinion that the Giants don’t have any viable options at tight end.
Running Back/Fullback Kendall Gaskins
Although the focus in training camp is usually on players who can potentially help the team in the coming season, often there’s a candidate who ends up doing just enough to remain in the team’s plans, albeit as a member of the practice squad.
One such player to keep an eye on who could be a nice surprise is running back/fullback Kendall Gaskins, a 6’1”, 240-pound first-year player out of Richmond. Gaskins was one of the two relatively unknown running backs (the other being second-year man Michael Cox) that running backs coach Craig Johnson said he’s looking forward to seeing in pads.
“Both of those guys want to prove it-- they’re hungry and they want to get after it,” Johnson told me for Inside Football.
Gaskins initially began life in the NFL as an undrafted free agent signed last year by the Buffalo Bills. He ended up being one of the final roster moves made by the Bills in their quest to get to the 53-man roster limit last year.
Gaskins then sat out of football until the Giants signed him to their practice squad on December 17, 2013. Following the 2013 season, he was signed to a reserve/futures contract.
NFL Draft Scout listed Gaskins as a fullback in its 2013 draft preview. Gaskins rushed for more than 1,700 yards in college, averaging 3.9 yards per carry and scoring 34 rushing touchdowns in 452 carries, which, as Ed Valentine of Big Blue View points out, translates to one touchdown per every 13.2 carries.
In his senior season alone, Valentine noted, Gaskins—a four-year starter and team captain his senior season—recorded 13 touchdowns on 148 carries, or one every 11 carries. His 38 career touchdowns were the second most in Richmond’s school history.
He also posted 46 career receptions and four receiving touchdowns. During his pro day, NFL Draft Scout reported that Gaskins posted some impressive measurables, including 40-yard dash times of 4.70 and 4.76, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9’10” broad jump and 20 bench press reps.
During the spring for the Giants, Gaskins did a nice job catching passes out of the backfield and looked smooth running with the ball. It will be interesting to see if he gets most of his work this summer with the Giants at the halfback or fullback spot.
While Gaskins, a former team captain, is realistically a long shot to make the 53-man roster, he could conceivably get his chance next season, particularly at fullback, if the team doesn’t renew the contract of whoever wins the current fullback battle between Henry Hynoski and John Conner.
Defensive Tackle Markus Kuhn
The arrival of third-round draft pick Jay Bromley and the signing of undrafted free agent Kelcy Quarles create an interesting competition for the fourth defensive tackle spot.
The projected starters are Johnathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins. Veteran Mike Patterson was re-signed to another one-year contract to provide depth.
That likely leaves one more spot open for one of the candidates from a group that includes Bromley, Quarles and Markus Kuhn, the Giants’ 2012 seventh-round draft pick.
Despite the arrival of Bromley, people shouldn’t be so quick to put the rookie ahead of Kuhn for a roster spot. Kuhn, as it turns out, received the second-most snaps of any Giants defensive tackle in his first season with the team, according to the snap count data kept by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Defensive Snap Counts
Percentage of Defensive Snaps
Johnathan Hankins (2013)
Markus Kuhn (2012)
Marvin Austin (2011
Linval Joseph (2010)
It’s possible, given how close Kuhn, as a rotational tackle, was to Hankins’ numbers, that he might have topped Hankins in total snaps received as a rookie had he not suffered the knee injury.
If that’s not enough to convince you that Kuhn still might very well be someone to keep an eye on this summer, consider this feedback from Giants defensive line coach Robert Nunn, who told reporters:
He had an outstanding offseason, really outstanding practices. He and Hankins, they’ll definitely get more reps in training camp than Mike P and Cullen if everything goes as planned. (Kuhn) showed up every day. When we go out there and go in team situations there wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t call his name out in a positive manner.
Kuhn isn’t starting material right now but his experience, grasp of the playbook and work ethic have clearly helped him move up on the depth chart to where he could very well be that fourth man in the defensive tackle, leaving Bromley to fight Patterson for the final roster spot.
Safety Cooper Taylor
Safety Cooper Taylor is another example of a young veteran who will be pushed by a 2013 draft pick—in this case, it will be Nat Berhe, one of the Giants’ two fifth-round picks.
Although Taylor spent most of last season injured—he only appeared in eight games, most of those on special teams, taking just five snaps on defense per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—the Giants’ coaching staff remains intrigued by Taylor’s 6’4”, 228-pound size and by what they’ve seen from the former Richmond Spider this offseason.
“Cooper hopefully has the ability this year to break in and have the impact for us on special teams if he can stay healthy, which of course was the issue for him last year,” safeties coach David Merritt told me for Inside Football.
“At the same time, Cooper—the sky’s the limit for this young man. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, but again Cooper is going to get his chance to shine on the field and in the preseason games, which is going to be really big.”
Head coach Tom Coughlin agreed, telling reporters, “You can see that he’s a much bigger human being right now.
“He’s worked hard in the offseason, he’s stronger, he’s bigger, (and) he’s in his second go-around so he has an excellent opportunity to contribute in a lot of ways.”
If the Giants keep four safeties, the last spot will come down to Taylor and Berhe. If it’s a draw, look for Taylor to get the nod because Berhe is eligible for the practice squad whereas Taylor is not.
Tight End Larry Donnell
Although tight end Larry Donnell has had limited snaps thus far in his short career, it needs to be remembered that in 2013, his first full season with the team, he lost most of the spring to a broken foot, which he told me stunted his development.
Despite the missed time, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) notes that Donnell saw action in 107 offensive snaps last year, mostly as an in-line blocker, but several also coming as an H-back or from the fullback, especially in the first half of the season.
A closer look at Donnell’s grades shows that he held his own as a pass-blocker and as a run-blocker save for Week 4 (against Kansas City). He also only gave up two quarterback hurries all season.
Donnell, an undrafted free agent in 2012, has ideal size for a tight end—he stands 6’6” and weighs 269 pounds.
He also has the most experience of the current Giants crop in terms of playing the multiple roles.
If he can show more consistency and run crisper routes, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be one of the biggest surprises of this year’s training camp.