- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
2dDan Graziano and Adam Caplan