- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
- 0 Shares
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As soon as he saw the text message, Rueben Randle knew how he would be spending 30 minutes of his Thursday afternoon: with Eli Manning, going over blitzes, third downs, different coverage packages and all the nuances of a quarterback-receiver relationship.
"He's the quarterback, the leader of the offense," Randle said. "As a young receiver, you want to be on the same page with him."
After Sunday, Randle should make those one-on-one sessions a weekly thing.
The rookie had his best game as a pro, catching six balls for 82 yards in the Giants' 41-27 win over the Browns. Randle got his first chance at extending playing time with Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden out, and he took advantage of his opportunity.
"I went out there and did my job and when the ball came my way, try to make a play on it," Randle said.
Randle entered the week under a lot of scrutiny, after NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth said the Giants were questioning the rookie's work ethic last week. Teammate Martellus Bennett defended Randle on Sunday, saying that every rookie's work ethic is questioned upon entering the league because of the difference between college and the pros.
With Nicks and Barden missing, Randle needed to put all the criticism aside and be sure that he thrive as the team's No. 3 receiver. His meeting with Manning helped reinforce some things, and Randle came out wanting to make a statement.
"I wasn't bothered too much (by the criticism)," Randle said. "Just wanted to prove myself to my teammates and my coaching staff."
He made his mark very quickly on Sunday. On the Giants' third drive, Manning threw to Randle four straight times, and the rookie made three catches for 37 yards plus drew a defensive pass interference penalty. He later added a five-yard catch that preceded the Giants' first touchdown.
Randle ended up being targeted a team-high nine times, and averaged 13.7 yards per catch. Coming into the game, he knew he would be utilized on third down and would have to win in man-to-man coverage. Randle's strong play earned the praise of his coach and teammates.
"We needed some young guys to definitely step up. Rueben Randle made some great plays for us and did some good things," Manning said. "That's obviously what we've expected of him and it's good to see it. He took some shots, took some hits, stayed tough and played well and that was exciting."
As the Giants continue to deal with injuries, opportunities seemingly present themselves each week. Two weeks ago, Barden stepped up. This week, Randle made his mark. The second-round pick out of LSU is hoping to get some more chances along the way.
"You always want to build, continue to get better," Randle said.