EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There has been a welcome change watching the New York Giants‘ offense at minicamp this week. It’s almost as if your eyes don’t know where to look after years of watching paint dry. Now, instead of drab blotches there are bright spots dotted all over the field, with more enticing possibilities to come this summer.
Flanked out wide on one play during 11-on-11 drills Wednesday at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center field was wide receiver Kenny Golladay, the costly, prized offseason addition. On the other side was Darius Slayton. Those are two players who can stretch and scare opposing defenses, who averaged more than 15 yards a reception in 2019 and ooze big-play potential.
In the slot on this same play was Sterling Shepard, who has averaged 63 catches a season since being selected No. 40 overall in the 2016 NFL draft. Tight end Evan Engram was also flexed out next to Shepard on this play. Engram, for all his struggles, doesn’t lack talent and potential. He was the best offensive player on the field this spring (think Michael Jordan in shorts and shoulder pads), looking quicker than ever and catching everything thrown in his direction after a season filled with dropped passes.
That made four legitimate pass-catching targets for quarterback Daniel Jones, a luxury he rarely enjoyed last season. And it didn’t even include 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney, a wide receiver who made an impression a few plays later. He was working with backup quarterback Mike Glennon and most of the projected nonstarters when he caught a pass, spun and high-stepped seemingly in one motion. It was a move made at maybe three-quarters speed that stood out on a strong afternoon for the rookie.
This was a glimpse of what has the Giants and their fans excited after watching an offense that last season scored fewer points (17.5 per game) than any team aside from the Adam Gase-led New York Jets.
“We have a lot of talent,” said running back Saquon Barkley, who isn’t working with his teammates yet as he rehabs the knee injury that knocked him out in Week 2 last season. “I think we have a chance to be real special.”
The possibilities had Barkley daydreaming in the cafeteria, staring out the large windows while his teammates practiced. At this point, with his return date unknown, he can only dream.
But Barkley should be back at some point this summer or early in the season. So, too, should tight end Kyle Rudolph, an accomplished pass-catcher and red zone target who is rehabbing from a foot surgery he underwent after signing as a free agent. Even fullback Eli Penny catches the ball better than just about anybody at his position, if the Giants decide to use that to their advantage.
It’s enough talent to allow offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to open the playbook. This week’s workouts only reaffirmed there is no reason for this offense to be stagnant or uninspiring. Garrett does seem to understand the expectations and pressure that exist after the Giants went out of their way to load up on players this offseason.
Golladay with the one hander 🔥 pic.twitter.com/lYjQE3v39E
— New York Giants (@Giants) June 9, 2021
“Any time you add pieces, whether it’s in the draft or free agency, you’re obviously doing that to help improve your team, create competition, get guys out there that can help you and make plays and become more explosive,” Garrett said. “We are excited about the additions we have. We are trying to get those guys acclimated. We are also excited about the guys who were with us before, and they have a year under their belt now. They will learn from those experiences and hopefully continue to grow. That’s the process we are in right now.”
After the coronavirus pandemic affected the 2020 season, the hope is a second season under Garrett in more normal circumstances will benefit the offense.
Golladay presented the most obvious difference on the practice field at minicamp. His size (6-foot-4, 213 pounds) and ability to play the ball in the air are rare. He possesses a skill set Jones didn’t have to work with previously.
The easy comparison is that Golladay could be for Jones what former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was for Eli Manning, though it’s hard to tell at this point considering Golladay and the receivers have been catching uncontested passes this spring. There are no live periods at minicamp and organized team activities under coach Joe Judge, but Jones likes what he sees.
“That’s pretty easy, I think, to tell just by [Golladay’s] stature, his size and length, his athleticism. He’s a big target and had a lot of success in this league going up and catching balls over guys and winning those contested catches,” Jones said. “So yeah, that’s something you could tell as soon as you get on the field.”
Toney, who was excused from practice Thursday to handle a family emergency, has stood out as well — although for a different reason. His skill set is unique from the rest of the receivers. He moves in a way the others simply can’t.
Jones described him this week as “twitchy and explosive.” He’s more of a playmaker than a straight wide receiver with his ability to stick his leg in the ground and change directions before his quarterback can even tap the football in the pocket. The potential is there for Toney to make an instant impact, even as a fourth receiver.
While there is reason for optimism for this offense, right now it’s only potential.
“In terms of knowing what we have, we are really not going to know that until we get to training camp and pads are on and we are playing actual football,” Judge said.
The coach can try to lower expectations this spring and summer, but it’s not going to work this time. There was too much money and draft capital invested this offseason.
All it takes is one peek at the offense on the field to realize this group can be as special as Barkley imagines.