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."