New York Giants: Jake Ballard

The awkward part of New York Giants GM Jerry Reese's pre-draft news conference Thursday came when a reporter asked him about tight end. The exchange went like this:
Q: Historically, this team has relied on the tight end quite a bit. Would you be comfortable moving forward with the guys you have on your roster right now?

Reese: Historically we've relied on our tight end?

Q: Well, they've had a prominent role.

Reese: Really?

Q: I seem to remember tight ends catching important passes.

Reese: Yeah, well, we think we've got some tight ends that can catch some important passes. But "prominent role"? We want all of our positions to be prominent roles. I'm not sure if our tight ends have had prominent roles in the past. But we want a competent tight end. We think we've got a couple of young tight ends who have been here for a couple of years who we want to develop, and we'll continue to look as we move forward.
[+] EnlargeBrandon Myers
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsIn his one season with the Giants, Brandon Myers caught 47 passes for 522 yards.
I have been on the other end of that exchange in the past. I've been the one who asked Reese a question that posited a certain level of significance for the tight end position and had him reject the premise. Obviously, this does not show Reese at his most polite, but he views this idea that the Giants' offense has relied on a tight end as an especially irksome misperception. And the numbers support his side of it:

  • Brandon Myers' 47 receptions in 2013 were the second-most in a single season by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 57 passes in 2007.
  • Since 2007, the Giants have employed four different starting tight ends -- Kevin Boss from 2008-10, Jake Ballard in 2011, Martellus Bennett in 2012 and Myers last year.
  • Over that six-year stretch, the Giants' leading tight end has averaged 42 receptions for 539 yards and five touchdowns per year, with Bennett's 55 catches and 626 yards in 2012 and Boss' six touchdowns in 2008 the high-water marks in those categories.

Reese is not shy about telling people he thinks he can find a tight end who can catch 42 passes every year, and this is the basis on which he rejects a characterization such as "prominent role." Yes, he could be nicer about making the point, but the Giants' offense has not, in point of fact, relied on the tight end. Shockey was an exceptional case -- an exceptional talent the Giants deemed worthy of a first-round pick. And Bennett's athleticism allowed them to use him a bit more than they've used other guys after they were able to get him on the cheap prior to the 2012 season.

But the thing to remember about Bennett and Shockey is that both were excellent and willing blockers at the position. Bennett's as good a run-blocking tight end as there is in the NFL right now, and the Giants had him on the field a lot for that reason. That his size and speed enabled him to be a slightly bigger factor in the passing game than some of his predecessors were was a bonus, and the Giants were fortunate that he wasn't in demand that year due to the perception that he was a huge disappointment in Dallas. Once he played well for them, he parlayed that into a big free-agent deal with the Bears, and the Giants made no effort to spend to keep him.

So the point to be taken from this is not that the Giants don't like the tight end position but that it's not a position on which they feel compelled to spend major resources. Other than that 2002 first-round pick they spent on Shockey, they've consistently sought cheap solutions at tight end, viewing whoever plays it as replaceable from year to year. They want guys who can block, and if those guys can catch the ball, so much the better.

For that reason, it's easy to convince yourself that they won't be taking North Carolina's Eric Ebron with the No. 12 pick in the first round next week. Ebron may be an exceptional talent as a receiver, and the tight end position leaguewide may have evolved to the point where it's worth spending a No. 12 overall pick to get one who can be a difference-maker in the passing game. But Reese insisted Thursday that the arrival of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has not changed the way the Giants evaluate offensive players. And while Shockey was the No. 14 overall pick in that 2002 draft, it's vital to remember that Shockey was a good blocker in addition to a great pass-catcher. Ebron is a pass-catcher only. He'd be a liability as a blocker. So the comparison doesn't necessarily fit.

The Giants could find a tight end such as Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round if they really feel they need one, but it's possible they don't feel that way. They have 2012 fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson still on the roster and have been eager for some time to see him on the field more. They resisted putting Robinson on injured reserve all last year because they believed he had something to offer if he ever got healthy (which he finally did, only to injure himself again on the opening kickoff of the Week 16 game in Detroit). They signed blocking tight end Kellen Davis and Daniel Fells for depth at the position, and Larry Donnell has been a strong enough special-teams performer to earn more practice reps and show what he can do. That's the group Reese has, and he swears he doesn't feel the need to upgrade it in the draft. If their pick comes around and the best player still on their board plays tight end, sure, they could take him. But Reese isn't hunting for some huge solution at the position next week.

The question is whether he's right. I personally think the Giants would benefit from having a more permanent solution at this position than they've employed over the past four years. I think the way the league is going, it's more important than it used to be to have a big-time weapon at that position who can split out wide and bust matchups in the secondary. But I don't run the Giants. Jerry Reese does. And he and the Giants do things their way, and they believe in it. You can respect someone's conviction even if your opinion differs from theirs. Reese thinks he's OK at tight end -- or at least that he will be. And it's clear when he's asked about it that he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

Camp preview: Tight end

July, 18, 2013
Brandon Myers, Bear Pascoe and Chase ClementJim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Myers (far l.) and Chase Clement (far r.) join Bear Pascoe among the Giants' tight ends.
As training camp approaches, we're counting down to camp by taking a look at the Giants, position by position.

Position: Tight end.

Projected starters: Bear Pascoe, Brandon Myers.

Projected reserves: Adrien Robinson.

New faces: Myers, Chase Clement, Jamie Childers.

The departed: Martellus Bennett.

Player to watch: Myers. The Giants lost a lot of potential and talent in Bennett but they replaced him with a tight end that had 79 receptions for 806 yards in Oakland last year. While he likely will not see as many targets with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz on the field, Myers gives Manning another weapon that defenses will need to account for. The question is whether Myers can block enough to stay on the field.

Potential strength: Manning needs a pass-catching tight end when defenses try to take Nicks and Cruz away. Tight ends have sometimes come up big for Manning over the years on third downs, on fourth-quarter comeback drives and in the red zone. The Giants have versatility in their tight ends. Pascoe, who excels as a hybrid tight end/fullback, will see more snaps in the backfield filling in for the injured Henry Hynoski. Myers has the potential to be one of Manning’s best pass-catching tight ends. Robinson’s potential is intriguing and his size could be an asset in the red zone if he continues to develop. The Giants also like Larry Donnell and Clement, who has drawn very early comparisons to Jake Ballard and could be a practice squad candidate.

Potential weakness: Myers is the fourth starting tight end Manning will have had in as many seasons. Even though Bennett had 55 receptions last year in his one and only season with Manning, the quarterback and tight end often were not on the same page when it came to their timing and routes. Now Manning has to develop a new chemistry and rapport with Myers and potentially the young and inexperienced Robinson.

Wild card: Robinson. He’s a huge target for Manning and that was on display at times during red zone drills in OTAs and minicamp this offseason. Jerry Reese has raved about his potential and nobody has forgotten the “JPP of tight ends” label. Robinson might have an opportunity to show what he can do in camp with Pascoe playing more fullback.

Tell us what you think of the tight ends entering camp.

Coach talk: Pope on tight ends

June, 17, 2013
Now that the Giants are off until training camp, we're taking a look at what the coaches are saying about how their positions looked this offseason in OTAs.

Today, we start with what coach Mike Pope thinks about the tight ends.

The JPP of tight ends: The tight end people are most curious about is Adrien Robinson, the "JPP of tight ends." Robinson has been a project, but Pope likes what he has seen this offseason.

"Adrien Robinson appears to have gone into the land of the believers," Pope said recently. "And yes he has been making some good progress. He is doing a lot of the assignment things correctly. Now we have to get him to adjust to the way the defense is playing on each particular play and to make the best decisions based on how the defense is playing. But he is running well and he has his weight down some.

"The quarterback is starting to find him," Pope continued. "He is hard to miss –- he is the tallest tree in the forest out there. So he is a good target. But we are more than mildly pleased with the progress that he has made from an assignment standpoint."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Myers
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants are hoping for big things from free-agent acquisition Brandon Myers.
Bear at FB: With Henry Hynoski recovering from surgery, Bear Pascoe has filled in at fullback. So Robinson could get more opportunities to play with and behind Brandon Myers.

"When we can put Bear in (at fullback) with one of these other guys, now we can do a lot more things as far as open formations," Pope said. "A little more difficult for the defense to predict where they can’t just key on one of those guys and say the ball is going there. So that helps us."

Vertical threat: Pope is eager to see what Myers will do in training camp. He believes the former Raiders tight end could be an option in the vertical game. Myers, who had 79 receptions for 806 yards and four touchdowns last season, was signed to replace Martellus Bennett.

"I think at the Raiders he was more of an intermediate receiver," Pope said. "And now our passing game does allow the tight end to get more vertically down the field -– flag routes, double seam routes, post routes. And he appears to have the skills to get those balls. He has a little bit of a jet that can accelerate and go get a ball that is a little deeper. You may not think he is going to reach it, but he has that little bit. So we are very interested to see him in pads."

A new Ballard: Pope is also eager to see what Chase Clement, a 6-foot-5 rookie from LSU, can do in camp.

"When I first looked at him, I had visions of Jake Ballard," Pope said. "Just because he was a good blocker on the goal line. They seldom ever threw him the ball. But when the ball was snapped, he had kind of that tough-guy mentality -– old school."

"He is not going to be an all-world receiver way down the field," Pope added. "But as far as being explosive and flexible, and he has pretty good football savvy. There was a little concern about a back injury. We got that looked at and there doesn’t appear to be a problem."

How do you feel about the Giants' tight ends and what Pope had to say?

Notebook: Murphy is a 'knife'

March, 19, 2013
Jerry Reese believes Louis Murphy will add a new dimension to the Giants' offense.

The Giants made the Murphy free-agent signing official Tuesday and Reese thinks his new wideout will help spread the field for Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

"He will add another dimension to our offense," Reese said on SiriusXM NFL radio. "We have a scout named Jeremiah Davis and he talks about guys being a knife. This guy is a knife. This guy can take the top off your defense. If we have Nicks back healthy and we have Cruz back, this guy gives you a deep threat that we haven't had, like a guy who can run like this guy."

[+] EnlargeLouis Murphy
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThe Giants hope Louis Murphy can stretch the field.
Murphy was signed to add depth with Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden both free agents.

Mum on Cruz: As expected, Reese didn't have much to say about Cruz's contract situation.

"It is inappropriate for me to talk too much about Victor," Reese said about his restricted free-agent receiver. "One thing I can say is he is a terrific young man and a terrific football player. We are hoping for that situation to work out."

Tight end talk: Reese may have a new starting tight end for the fourth straight year, but he believes tight ends coach Mike Pope won't have to do a lot of teaching and training with Brandon Myers, who signed last weekend to replace Martellus Bennett.

"In the past, we have given Mike some young kids," Reese said. "He had Kevin Boss, he had Jake Ballard, Martellus Bennett hadn't played a lot. This guy [Myers] has played quite a bit, he caught 79 balls in Oakland. So there is not a lot of training. He is quarterback friendly. He catches 80 balls and people don't really know that much about him. We think he will be a great piece to our offense and we think Eli [Manning] will have a relationship with him really quickly."

JPP of TEs: Reese expects Adrien Robinson -- the "JPP of tight ends" -- to "make a jump" this season after spending his rookie season developing his game.

"The guy is 280 pounds, he ran a 4.57 at his pro day," Reese said. "We think he can develop into a terrific blocker. In practice, he flashed some things that were ... like some wild things in practice. We're expecting him to make a jump this season and get in there and give us some contributions as our big blocking tight end, and he can catch the ball really nice. We expect to bring him along and hopefully he will contribute for us."

Free-agency strategy: Reese says people ask him what his strategy is when it comes to free agency.

"I don't think there is a template," he said. "Some years you have more money than other years and you think. 'I can get out and strike quickly.' I remember one year we went out and got Antrel Rolle and then another year we went out and got [Chris] Canty and [Michael] Boley and we went out and got a center [David Baas] one time.

"So you have to strike when you can, but other times you have to sit back and wait and let the market settle down a little bit," he continued. "There are three levels of free agency. ... (You) have the first level; you get the guys out there who [are] going to get the money right away. Then there is a second level and then you can bottom feed on the guys left at the end."

Giants free agency positional needs

March, 8, 2013
Teams can begin negotiating with the agents of free agents tonight at midnight.

The Giants reportedly have around $10 million in cap space thus far. They still could create more room if they restructure more deals or cut other players. The Giants will focus on re-signing many of their own free agents and restricted free agents. Remember, the Giants want to be responsible with their salary cap, try to sign young stars like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to long-term deals and see what some of their young unproven players on the roster can do with opportunities.

Keep that in mind as we take a look at some free agent names that are available at positions of need for the Giants.


Corey Webster agreed to a pay cut and reduced his base salary from $7 million to $1.25 million for this coming season according to the NFLPA website. Webster struggled last year but the Giants don't have much depth or experience after Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley. Terrell Thomas is attempting to return from a third ACL injury. That is why the Giants need to add some corners. According to ESPN's free agent tracker and grading, Chris Gamble, Antoine Cason, Brent Grimes, Quentin Jammer, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib, Sean Smith, Adam Jones and Tracy Porter are among some of the top corners available. Gamble is intriguing. But considering their cap space and how they want to re-sign their own free agents like Kevin Boothe and Martellus Bennett, the Giants might be more in the market for backup cornerbacks for depth unless they can get somebody good at a reasonable price. Former Giant Aaron Ross was also released by Jacksonville on Friday.


What happens if the Giants can't re-sign Bennett? It's hard imagining the Giants investing a lot of money in the tight end position since they have filled that spot with Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard and Bennett in the past few seasons. The Giants probably wouldn't spend the money to land a free agent like Jared Cook. But there are some intriguing tight end names out there if Bennett bolts. Dustin Keller, Delanie Walker, Anthony Fasano, Boss and Brandon Myers are among the free agents. Remember, the Giants likely won't spend a lot on a tight end and they would ideally want a guy on the rise, one who can block and catch. That's why re-signing Bennett within a reasonable price is important.


The Giants can use another pass rusher since Osi Umenyiora is a free agent and will be looking to test the market. Free agent defensive ends include Cliff Avril, Dwight Freeney, Michael Bennett, Glenn Dorsey, John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy, Ty Warren and Israel Idonije. The Giants could add a veteran pass rusher at a reasonable cost but it probably makes more sense to draft one in April.


This is another position where the Giants might not invest a ton of money into. Rey Maualuga, Nick Barnett, Daryl Smith, Paul Kruger and Larry Foote are among the free agent linebackers. The Giants could sign a cheap veteran and/or just bring back their own free agent linebackers -- Chase Blackburn and Keith Rivers -- at a low cost. Drafting a linebacker is a possibility.


The Giants are expected to tender RFA Stevie Brown. Kenny Phillips is a free agent and the Giants likely would want him back for the right price. If Phillips moves on, the Giants may feel the need to add one more veteran safety to join Antrel Rolle and Brown with youngsters Will Hill and Tyler Sash behind them. ESPN's Josina Anderson reported that the Giants expressed interest in Charles Woodson. The safety free agent market is deep with names like Ed Reed, Adrian Wilson, Woodson, LaRon Landry and Dawan Landry out there. The Giants already have a lot of money tied into Rolle so it might not make sense to pay big bucks long term for another safety.


If Boothe signs elsewhere, the Giants will need a guard or tackle even if they opt to start James Brewer and/or David Diehl at left guard and right tackle. This is one of the areas that the Giants would invest money in but likely nothing outrageous after investing up to $38.75 million in Will Beatty. Free agents include Jake Long, Phil Loadholt, Sebastian Vollmer, Eric Winston, Andre Smith, Jammal Brown, Gosder Cherilus, Andy Levitre, Ramon Foster, and Kory Lichtensteiger among others. A young guy with potential like Donald Thomas might make sense if Boothe leaves. The Giants also might try to add some veterans at a low price like they did with Sean Locklear last season and they could draft a lineman in April as well.

Giants franchise tag options

February, 18, 2013
Starting today, NFL teams can designate franchise player tags.

The New York Giants don't often use their franchise tag. In fact, the Giants are one of seven teams that have only used their franchise player designation three times or less on offense, defense or special teams since the system began in 1993, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

The Giants have used it twice on offense and once on special teams. They've utilized their franchise tag on tackle Jumbo Elliott (1993), running back Brandon Jacobs (2009) and last year on Steve Weatherford. The Giants used the tag on Jacobs and Weatherford in an effort to later reach a long-term deal.

So, considering that the Giants don't use their franchise tags much at all, it's possible Jerry Reese could opt not to use it this year. And if he does, he might use it with the same intention as he did with Jacobs and Weatherford.

Tackle Will Beatty is likely the leading franchise-tag candidate if the Giants opted to use it. Beatty, a free agent, is considered to be the Giants' priority in free agency. The projected non-exclusive franchise player tag for an offensive lineman is $9.66 million.

Some other free agents the Giants would like to re-sign are tight end Martellus Bennett and left guard Kevin Boothe. The non-exclusive franchise tag for tight ends is projected to be $5.96 million.

It's hard envisioning the Giants using their franchise tag on a tight end, though, considering how they have repeatedly plugged in different players at that position from Kevin Boss to Jake Ballard to Bennett.

Safety Kenny Phillips is another free agent, but my guess is the Giants will not use the franchise tag on Phillips. The tag for safeties is projected to be $6.79 million. And with Antrel Rolle making $7 million in base salary this season and the Giants planning to keep restricted free agent Stevie Brown, Reese probably won't invest that much more money in the safety position.

Remember, the Giants still likely have to clear more cap space to sign free agents, extend the contracts of RFA Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and sign their own draft picks.

Tell us if you think the Giants should use their franchise tag and on who, if so.

Camp preview: Tight end

July, 24, 2012
As training camp approaches, we're counting down to camp by taking a look at the defending champions, position by position.

Projected starters: Bear Pascoe and Martellus Bennett.

Projected reserves: Travis Beckum, Adrien Robinson and Christian Hopkins.

New faces: Bennett, Robinson, Larry Donnell and Ryan Purvis.

Going, going, gone: Jake Ballard.

Player to watch: Bennett. The Giants made signing Bennett a priority in free agency. Bennett practically oozes potential. He has terrific size at 6-6. He has soft hands and nice athleticism. He is a good blocker. Bennett could be a terrific red zone target for Manning. The hope is Bennett will fulfill his potential now that he has a chance to start after backing up Jason Witten in Dallas. With Eli Manning and tight ends guru Mike Pope at his side, Bennett has a chance to shine. He just has to learn the new offense and put it all together.

Potential strength: Besides showing that he is an elite quarterback, Manning displayed the ability to make players better and develop unknown players like Ballard and Victor Cruz last season. Pope, the tight ends coach, is one of the best in the business so there’s a good chance either Pascoe, Bennett, Hopkins or Robinson emerges into a viable option at tight end.

Beckum will be in that mix as an option in the passing game once he recovers from ACL surgery and is ready to play.

Pascoe enters camp as the starter and the Giants like how he can block, catch and play both tight end and fullback. But the job as Manning’s new tight end target is there for Bennett to take.

Robinson, the team’s fourth-round pick, may be a year away from contributing and is still learning the system and game. But if he truly is the “JPP of tight ends” as Jerry Reese labeled him, Robinson will be contributing in some form and flashing his potential by the end of the season.

It remains to be seen how many tight ends the Giants will keep. They carried three on the roster last season.

Potential weakness: Lack of experience. Pascoe has started 11 games in each of the last two seasons as a hybrid tight end/fullback but only has caught 22 passes in three seasons. Bennett has a total of 85 receptions and 31 starts in his four seasons with the Cowboys. Beckum has a total of 26 receptions in three seasons.

After those three, only Purvis has NFL experience among the remaining tight ends on the roster. Purvis played in 10 games last season in Tampa Bay and catching five passes.

Wild card: Robinson and Hopkins. With the job up for grabs, anybody could conceivably emerge so we are going with two wild card options. The Giants love Robinson’s athleticism and raw potential. Robinson, though, missed OTAs as he finished up school. If he really is as athletic and gifted as advertised, Robinson could develop with Manning and Pope’s help into a contributor this season if he can grasp the offense and game quickly enough.

Pope helped develop Ballard and Pascoe, relatively anonymous tight ends before, into starters. He could keep that streak going with Hopkins, a 6-5, 277-pound tight end that the Giants kept on the practice squad last season. Reese has been talking Hopkins up since just after the Super Bowl as an option to replace Ballard and the injured Beckum. He has some athleticism and hands as well.

Tell us what you think of the tight ends below.

Spotlight: Tight ends

July, 11, 2012
With training camp at the end of the month, spotlight focuses the tight end position -- sure to be one of the most watched competitions in training camp.

SPOTLIGHT: The tight ends

THE COMPETITION: Bear Pascoe, Martellus Bennett, Travis Beckum, Adrien Robinson, Christian Hopkins, Ryan Purvis and Larry Donnell.

THE 411: Last year, the Giants replaced Kevin Boss with Jake Ballard. This year, the Giants hope to find another big target over the middle for Eli Manning.

Kyle Terada/US PresswireBear Pascoe

Pascoe has the most experience of all the healthy tight ends. Beckum is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Super Bowl and might not be ready to play when the season starts.

Bennett is the guy the team hopes will step into the role after signing him in free agency. But Bennett has to adjust to a new offense and show he can handle a bigger role and fulfill his potential. Bennett missed some time in OTAs due to a hamstring issue as the coaching staff wanted to see the tight end shed some pounds.

The Giants drafted Robinson in the fourth round, but he is raw and missed OTAs to finish up in school. He may be at least a year away from contributing, but if he is really the "JPP of tight ends" -- as Jerry Reese described him -- he'll show flashes and get better as the season progresses.

The Giants like Hopkins, who has been on the practice squad. He has shown flashes of good hands and is a big body at 6-5, 277 pounds.

WHAT THE COACHES ARE SAYING: "Except for Bear, there is nobody that has done it before," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "You are hoping to have Bear as a swing guy, a second tight end -- he could motion back and play the fullback position, give you what he has always given. you which is unbelievable toughness and somehow making plays that maybe you don't think that he should be able to make.

"He always seems to make [those plays] for you -- not necessarily as your starting tight end," Gilbride continued. "But right now he is the starting tight end. Martellus was out and just barely got back. Adrien Robinson missed [OTAs]. So right now we have a long way to go at that spot."

Gilbride, though, acknowledged that he thought Ballard could be a good blocker and perhaps an underneath target in the passing game before Ballard exceeded his expectations and became a bigger threat.

"You are hoping Martellus [steps up]. ... That is why he was brought here," Gilbride said. "You are hoping that Adrien Robinson down the road would be the guy. If not, Bear is going to be the guy.

"We have been able to do it in the past. We have to do it again.”

CAMP PREDICTION: Pascoe enters camp as the starter and may be used more in the passing game out of necessity if Bennett isn't able to get comfortable in the new system by the time the season opener rolls around.

Pascoe displayed an ability to catch balls down the middle in OTAs and minicamp, and the Giants could lean on him early on until Bennett works his way in and earns Manning's trust. Robinson might need this year to develop before becoming a factor.

Beckum's impact all depends on his health and when he will be able to come back. Also, it remains to be seen how much the Giants use Beckum. When he was healthy last season, he wasn't utilized a ton as they leaned more on Ballard and Pascoe with blocking in mind as well. The Giants might also bring Beckum along slowly off his knee injury –- as they should with an ACL injury suffered in February -- so he might not start contributing until a few weeks into the season, if not later.

Hopkins could be a dark horse since tight ends coach Mike Pope has been able to develop guys like Boss, Ballard and Pascoe. And because of that, you can't discount Purvis or Donnell either, but they could potentially end up on the practice squad.

While Pascoe may be the guy Manning trusts in the passing game early on, the Giants also can use fullback Henry Hynoski as a short-yardage passing option if Bennett needs more time to get comfortable with the offense.

Hynoski showed the ability to catch out of the backfield late last season. I think Manning will look to Pascoe early until he develops a rapport with Bennett or another tight end, and that gives Pascoe a step up on the competition and the opportunity to seize the job.

Tell us what you want to see happen at tight end below.

The OC: State of the offense

June, 14, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Following the final practice of the Giants' three-day minicamp on Thursday, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride met with reporters to discuss the state of his unit.

Here are a few nuggets from that session:

• First of all, Gilbride spoke for over 10 minutes, and not once did the name "Eli Manning" come up. Guess that's what happens when your starting quarterback is a two-time Super Bowl MVP and still in his prime. No questions necessary.

• There were questions about rookie running back David Wilson and rookie wide receiver Rueben Randle, but they were addressed here.

• When asked about injured wideout Hakeem Nicks, and whether he might be ready in time for the start of the regular season:

"I don’t know. I’m hoping," Gilbride said. "I've got my fingers crossed -- my knees are hurting from being on them praying. He’s such a big part of what we’re doing."

"The thing that’s a tragedy here is that, there were so many things that we were looking forward to really developing with him, and really taking advantage of this time to focus on developing his entire skill set," he added. "There are certain things he can do extremely well, and certain things -- before you even ask, I’m not gonna get into it -- but this was gonna be a great chance for us to go another step ahead with him, and there’s nothing you can do, he’s hurt."

• In terms of other wide receivers on the roster, Gilbride mentioned that he had seen "flashes" from second-year man Jerrel Jernigan, and also spoke very highly of Brandon Collins, an undrafted rookie from Southeastern Louisiana. "Good speed, great quickness, but also picking up the offense pretty quick," said Gilbride.

• Gilbride wasn't as positive when speaking about the tight end position, lamenting the loss of Jake Ballard, to injury and the Patriots. "Right now, we’ve got a long way to go in that spot," he said.

He didn't exactly give Bear Pascoe, the Giants' lone returning veteran at the position, a ringing endorsement as a potential starter, although he did have some nice things to say:

"You hoped to have Bear as a swing guy," said Gilbride, "a 'B,' a second tight end, that could motion back and play at the fullback position, give you what he’s always given you, which is unbelievable toughness, and somehow making plays that maybe you didn’t think he should be able to make -- he always seems to make 'em for you. Not necessarily as your starting tight end, but right now he’s the starting tight end."

Free agent signee Martellus Bennett was very limited this week because of a hamstring injury, and fourth-round draft pick Adrien Robinson missed most of the Giants' offseason program while finishing up at school.

"You’re hoping Martellus [is the starter], that’s why he was brought here," Gilbride added. "You’re hoping that Adrien Robinson down the road will be the guy. If not, Bear’s gonna be the guy. ... Somebody’s gotta do it."

• In terms of the offensive line, Gilbride continues to be concerned -- particularly because Will Beatty, slated to be the team's starting left tackle next season, has also been very limited because of a bad back.

"We need him," said Gilbride. "He’s gotta be there."

The team has had a lot of turnover on the O-line the last couple of years, saying goodbye to veterans Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert, and not re-signing Kareem McKenzie following last season.

"We’re not thin numerically," Gilbride said, "but with experienced proven guys that you can say, 'Hey, I feel real good about them.'"

Beckum feels OK after first run

June, 13, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants tight end Travis Beckum ran Tuesday for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee in Super Bowl XLVI.

"My knee actually feels good," Beckum said on Wednesday. "Yesterday was a little weird, because obviously it was my first time running in a while. Kinda did some jogging in place today, and what I felt yesterday, I don’t feel today, so I guess that’s a good sign."

When asked if he felt discomfort on Tuesday, Beckum replied, "Not necessarily discomfort. Just a feeling that I hadn’t felt in a while. ... Kinda felt something on my patella, as far as right where my scar was. Did it today, and didn’t feel that, so I'm assuming it’s just breaking up the scar tissue."

When asked what's next in terms of his rehab, Beckum said, "I don’t know. It’s kinda one of those things, you don’t want to overdo it. I’m gonna take it day by day, and whatever the training staff says, [I'll do]."

He added that when the Giants' minicamp ends on Thursday, Beckum will stay behind and continue his rehab here, leading up to the start of training camp in Albany in late July.

Beckum could be a key player for the Giants in 2012, as the team does not have an established starter at the tight end position. Jake Ballard, last year's starter, was expected to miss most if not all of 2012 due to injury, and then was snatched up by the Patriots on waivers Tuesday.

The fourth-year player sounds well aware of the opportunity in front of him, and is also trying to add bulk to his relatively-undersized frame.

"I am trying to get a little bigger," Beckum said. "I weigh about 242 [pounds] right now. That is the biggest I have been since the [NFL] combine."

And his goal is to be back for the start of the 2012 regular season. "It is," Beckum said. "Obviously I wanna come back as soon as possible. But I gotta listen to my knee, and listen to the training staff."

Loss of Ballard a gain for Pascoe?

June, 13, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the second straight offseason, the Giants are searching for a new starting tight end.

Last year, after Kevin Boss signed with the Raiders, Tom Coughlin & Co. turned to the undrafted and unheralded Jake Ballard, who blossomed into a solid pro, with 38 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns.

Now Ballard is suddenly a member of the Patriots, after Bill Belichick snatched him away on Tuesday. And even though Ballard was going to miss some if not all of the 2012 season due to a knee injury, the move leaves the Giants with a gaping hole at the position going forward.

The biggest beneficiary, ironically, might be Ballard's Giants roommate: fellow tight end Bear Pascoe.

Pascoe was one of several Giants who spent Tuesday night hanging out with Ballard, after he had received the news that he had been claimed on waivers by the Pats. He also drove Ballard to the airport on Wednesday morning.

"Me and him were real close," he added. "You hate to see him go, but you wish him all the best of luck, and he’ll do great wherever he goes."

The question is, can Pascoe replace him? The 26-year-old has spent the past three seasons with Big Blue, after being drafted in the sixth round and subsequently waived by the 49ers.

He played in just four games for the Giants in his rookie season, but appeared in 31 of 32 regular season games the past two years.

Last year he had a career-high 12 catches for 136 yards in the regular season. He then scored his first-ever NFL touchdown on a six-yard reception in the NFC Championship Game against the Niners, and followed that up with four catches for 33 yards in Super Bowl XLVI.

Now he finds himself playing with the first-stringers at the Giants' mandatory veterans minicamp this week.

"I'm excited about it," Pascoe said. "This is a big year for myself."

Quarterback Eli Manning spoke positively about Pascoe on Tuesday. "Bear, he knows what he’s doing and knows the scheme, knows the offense," said Manning. "He’s doing well."

"Me and Eli, we’ve worked together for the past couple of years, and I think I’ve built some good trust with him," Pascoe said. "Right now, it’s all about just building on that trust, and getting detailed, and fine-tuning as much as possible.

"He’s not worried about me. He knows I’ll be in the right spot. That’s kinda where we’re at right now."

Pascoe will have some competition for the starting job. The Giants have also brought in Martellus Bennett, who had 85 receptions the past four seasons for the Cowboys, backing up five-time All-Pro Jason Witten. And Travis Beckum, who had 26 catches in the Giants' past three seasons, is expected to recover from a torn ACL in time to contribute in 2012 as well.

"My plan right now is to just work hard and make our team better, and hopefully take over that No. 1 spot. But I got some great competition out there," Pascoe said. "The way I look at it is, it’s anybody’s game."

Ballard claimed by Patriots

June, 12, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- The New York Giants were hoping Jake Ballard would clear waivers. And when he walked in to watch Tuesday's afternoon practice, it seemed as if he were back.

But the Giants took a risk by waiving Ballard after a failed physical to re-sign Rocky Bernard and they lost the tight end on Tuesday.

Ballard's agent, Blake Baratz, tweeted that the New England Patriots claimed the injured tight end, who could miss the entire season after microfracture and ACL knee surgery this offseason.

"As I stated yesterday a 'smart' football organization might claim @NYG_J_Ballard85 while he's hurt to own his rights," Baratz tweeted. "He's now a Patriot!"

Ballard stayed for the remainder of practice and could be seen talking to head coach Tom Coughlin at the end of practice. Afterward, the popular tight end said farewell to teammates in the locker room.

Baratz released a statement from Ballard:

"While this was very sudden and I am still experiencing a great deal of differing emotions, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you and place some closure on a wonderful chapter in my life. I will greatly miss my teammates, the fans, the organization, and albeit short-Iived, I will forever cherish all the great memories that we created during my time in a Giant uniform.

"Simultaneously, I am humbled by the opportunity that the Patriots have afforded me and as I have always done, I will bring nothing but hard work, professionalism, and integrity to what is already a world class organization."

The Giants liked Ballard a lot and were hoping he would clear waivers. Ballard, who had a breakout season last year, would have then gone on the PUP/reserve list.

But the Patriots, who are stacked at tight end with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, know first-hand what Ballard is capable of. Ballard had four receptions for 67 yards and one touchdown during the Giants' 24-20 win in New England last November.

During the Super Bowl, Ballard had two catches for 10 yards before tearing his ACL. Ballard tried to return to the game by testing his knee on the sideline before crumpling down in pain.

Ballard, who had 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns last year, is scheduled to make a base salary of $540,000 this season. He has said that the best-case scenario would be a midseason return, but he also acknowledged that he could miss the entire season while recovering from his knee surgery.

The Giants still have tight ends Bear Pascoe, Martellus Bennett, Travis Beckum (who is recovering from his own torn ACL but began running on Tuesday), rookie Adrien Robinson, Christian Hopkins, Larry Donnell and Ryan Purvis on the roster.

There's no telling how Ballard will be once he returns to the field after microfracture knee surgery. But the Giants loved his potential before the injury and now have lost Ballard and Kevin Boss in the last two summers.

The Giants, though, showed that they can find a new tight end after losing Boss last year in free agency. And tight ends coach Mike Pope and Eli Manning were already in the process of trying to replace Ballard for this season since there was no guarantee he would play this year.

But it still had to be hard to say goodbye to Ballard so soon.

Beckum making good progress

June, 12, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants tight end Travis Beckum will run on Tuesday for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee during Super Bowl XLVI.

Beckum will just run straight ahead, not go side-to-side or make cuts, but it's still a very encouraging sign.

"I think Beckum will be back at some point in time [this coming season]," coach Tom Coughlin said, on the opening day of the team's three-day veterans minicamp, "He's done very well."

"I’ve done everything except running [so far]," Beckum said. "Been in the pool a lot, been sprinting in the pool ... a lot of trying to make my glutes strong, my hamstrings, my quads. All that stuff is a factor in how my knee’s gonna hold up."

As for when he might be ready to play -- at the start of the regular season, or further down the line -- Beckum wouldn't guess at this point.

"I don’t know," Beckum said. "I’m kinda taking it week by week, day by day. Whatever my knee tells me, I’m gonna do."

If healthy, Beckum could be a key player for the Giants in 2012, considering the team also lost starting tight end Jake Ballard to a torn ACL in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots.

Ballard's injury was more severe. His knee also required microfracture surgery and he could miss the entire 2012 season. The Giants waived Ballard on Monday after a failed physical; the Patriots claimed him on Tuesday, Ballard's agent said.

Beckum, 25, a third-round draft choice in 2009 out of Wisconsin, had just five receptions for 93 yards and one touchdown in the 2011 regular season. But he had seven receptions combined in the Giants' three NFC playoff victories, leading up to the Super Bowl.

Ballard, 24, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, had 38 catches for 604 yards and four TDs in the 2011 regular season.

The Giants signed 25-year-old tight end Martellus Bennett (17 catches, 144 yards in 2011) in the offseason. Bennett spent the past four seasons backing up Jason Witten with the Cowboys.

They also have 26-year-old Bear Pascoe (12 catches, 136 yards), 27-year-old Christian Hopkins (a practice squad player last year), and fourth-round draft choice Adrien Robinson out of Cincinnati.

Minicamp Day 1: What to watch for

June, 12, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Day one of veterans minicamp starts today and here are some things to look for:

-- Tom Coughlin addresses the media this morning. We'll have his comments on the state of the Giants entering mini camp.

-- David Diehl apologized for his recent DUI arrest and we'll see if he talks about it today.

-- Also, hopefully we will have Coughlin and others talking about yesterday's transaction waiving Jake Ballard and re-signing Rocky Bernard. Ballard is expected to return to the Giants if he clears waivers. The team could then place him on the PUP list or injured reserve.

Giants re-sign Bernard, waive Ballard

June, 11, 2012
The Giants re-signed defensive tackle Rocky Bernard and waived Jake Ballard after the tight end failed a physical.

Ballard is recovering from a torn ACL and microfracture knee surgery and was not expected to return until mid-season if at all. Players underwent physicals on Monday before the team’s minicamp begins on Tuesday. A source said Ballard is expected to return once he clears waivers and potentially be placed on the PUP list or injured reserve. Ballard and his agent, Blake Baratz, said on Twitter that the tight end will return to the Giants if he clears waivers.

"Thanks for love everyone but don't worry, its a business, I'm on the road to recovery, and I believe I'll be in a Giants uniform in '13," Ballard tweeted.

The Giants like the 6-6 Ballard, who had a breakout season last year with 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. Ballard, who emerged as a starter despite not being drafted out of Ohio State, suffered his serious knee injury during the Super Bowl and attempted to return to the game by testing his knee on the sideline before crumpling to the turf in pain.

The Giants lost two tight ends -- Ballard and Travis Beckum -- to torn ACL injuries in their Super Bowl XLVI win over the Patriots. While Beckum optimistically hopes to return around the start of the season, Ballard has said all offseason that it’s possible he could miss the season. The Giants signed free agent Martellus Bennett and drafted rookie tight end Adrien Robinson in the offseason. The Giants still have Bear Pascoe and they also like tight end Christian Hopkins.

Bernard is entering his 11th season and adds more depth to a defensive line that includes Chris Canty, Linval Joseph, Shaun Rogers and Marvin Austin at defensive tackle.