New York Giants: Daniel Fells

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- I have no idea whether Larry Donnell will be the starting tight end for the New York Giants this season, because no one has any idea, and if anyone did know for sure on July 25 it wouldn't be me. What I do know is that the Giants' coaches really, really like Donnell and don't have any clearly superior options. So the fact that Donnell was listed first at the position when the team handed out its first unofficial depth chart of training camp Thursday wasn't the most shocking thing we've ever seen.

Donnell
As far as Donnell's concerned, it neither means nor changes anything.

"I'm just trying to do everything I can do to show the coaches I can do all of the right things as a player, so if that role comes my way, I can handle it," Donnell said before Giants practice Friday. "I just want to do the best I can to show I'm worthy of being here."

Those are common-sounding words, but Donnell lives them, and that is how he has caught the friendly attention of Giants coaches over the past two years. He was a willing and eager special-teams player in 2013, and Giants coaches say his dedication and work ethic were such that they looked for opportunities to involve him more in the offense. He is 25 years old. At 6-foot-6, 265 pounds he is the second-largest of the five tight ends on the Giants' roster after the 6-7, 265-pound Kellen Davis. Donnell was an undrafted free agent in 2012, one full year out of Grambling State, where he began his career as a quarterback and caught only 38 passes in four years once he moved to tight end during his freshman year.

This is an unlikely path for an NFL starting tight end, and Donnell remains far from a sure thing. He still needs to refine his run-blocking, which is likely to be the most important quality the Giants look for when they decide on a tight end, and he's obviously also still evolving as a pass-catcher. He believes his progress in the offense last year could have been more significant if not for a foot injury he suffered in the spring, and he believes he's coming along quickly this camp as he competes with Davis, Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson and Xavier Grimble for the starting role.

Donnell is also cognizant of the importance of continuing to be an animal on special teams. While the Giants will surely pick the best tight end as the winner of the competition, if it's close, they're likely to select the guy who has made the most favorable impression on them in the dirty work.

"No change on that," Donnell said. "Still on special teams, still flying around, doing all those things. The more you can do, the better."

Giants GM Jerry Reese tends to downplay the need for an experienced, reliable tight end, pointing out that the tight end hasn't been a big pass-catcher for much of recent Giants history. But Donnell thinks that's changing this year under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.

"The tight end plays a big tole in this offense," Donnell said. "We're a big part of it. We're main reads, No. 1 reads, so it's important to know where you need to be and how you need to get there. We're a big part of the offense."
The New York Giants Twitter mailbag is back from vacation! And not that you asked, but no, it does not feel as though it played enough golf. But oh well.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Speed. Like the Eleanor Roosevelt quote says in the opening credits of Talladega Nights, "hot, nasty, bad-a** speed." Odell Beckham was drafted to give the Giants the field-stretching threat that Hakeem Nicks did not provide last year, and the team believes he can outrun defensive backs and help open things up for Ben McAdoo's offense near the line of scrimmage. Of course, assuming they're right, Beckham can provide a big-play threat in his own right down the field. But their hope is that he has the speed to beat press coverage and stretch out defenses in a way that allows their offense to operate with a variety of quick-hitting options. I have my own concerns over how Beckham will react to big, physical cornerbacks, but there are plenty of people I talk to around the league who like him a lot and believe he'll contribute right away. @DanGrazianoESPN: Well, I think very. But I don't think there's any way you can count on it to happen. Even if Snee stays healthy, can he possibly deliver the same old power and explosiveness, on a consistent, week-to-week basis, that he did early in his career? All due respect to a great player, but I don't see it. They need a reliable backup plan, and I doubt it's John Jerry. So watch Brandon Mosley closely in camp. The Giants liked what they saw from him in the spring, and they're hoping he emerges as a reliable backup option (or a starter option if they do lose Snee and/or Jerry) at guard. A healthy, 16-game Snee would be a huge benefit to the Giants' offensive line. But I think it's a real long shot that they get it. He's a tough, tough champion who could surprise, but bodies wear down over time, especially at that position. @DanGrazianoESPN: I mean, I don't know who you have in mind, but Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis each have five years' worth of experience in the NFL, and those guys are already on the team. Given what's left on the free-agent market at this point, it's hard to see how they could bring in anyone who's any different from those two guys to do what you're suggesting. The Giants honestly want to give Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell a chance to show what they can do. They honestly don't believe in spending big resources on the position. But it's not as though they have NO TIGHT ENDS on the roster. What they lack is an experienced starting tight end they can trust to be a reliable option in the passing game. If none of the guys they have show any ability to be that, then sure, they could be shopping for tight end help once other teams start making cuts in late August. But given what the Giants tend to expect out of their tight ends, it's hard to imagine how someone on the roster won't emerge as at least a viable option. This is the group they're taking to camp at this point, and the truth is there's not a lot out there right now that would improve it. @DanGrazianoESPN: There's a role there for rookie fourth-round running back Andre Williams if he can take it. The Giants love to have a big, power running back who can grind out yards up the middle. No matter who the offensive coordinator is, that's going to be something Tom Coughlin wants. But they won't force Williams into playing time if he doesn't show he can handle some of the pass-protection responsibilities and maybe catch a ball or two. So while they like Williams and he was extremely productive in college last year, you shouldn't assume he's going to be a big factor in the run game right away. The Giants don't like to rush rookies, and everything I heard about Williams in spring practices indicated he needed a lot more work. They have Rashad Jennings, Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox and probably David Wilson, so they can certainly get by. When Williams is ready, they will have use for him. But that may not be Week 1.

Thanks for all of your questions. I'm'a check back in Monday from training camp, and we'll be off and running. Until then ... Shake n Bake. 

All this week, and then the week of July 14, we're taking a position-by-position look at the New York Giants' roster heading into training camp. Today we look at the position that's on everyone's mind: Tight end.

Projected starter: Adrien Robinson

Other candidates: Larry Donnell, Kellen Davis, Daniel Fells, Xavier Grimble

That's not a super-inspirational group right there, and Robinson is in that top spot only because he appears to be the leading candidate at this point. Anyone from the "others" group could overtake him easily, but as of now the Giants are hoping that this is the year Robinson hones that raw talent they saw in him when they drafted him in the fourth round in 2012. They drafted him based on that raw ability and hoped they could mold him into an NFL player. Health issues have slowed his development, which admittedly may never happen, but they see a guy who can be a dynamic option as a blocker and a receiver if he can get consistent practice time.

Donnell is a player whose versatility and athleticism they also like, and he was enough of a contributor on special teams last year to warrant a longer look with the offense. Fells and Davis are basically just blockers, and there's likely to be a spot for at least one of them. Grimble is an undrafted rookie out of USC who was once thought of highly as a recruit but never really put it together in college. He's a wild-card, but in this tight end field, you can't rule out anyone. Unless the Giants find a better option on the market between now and the start of camp, this is going to be a free-for-all search for the least objectionable option.

Tight end competition appears wide open

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14
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We've written this before, but it bears repeating -- the Giants currently have five tight ends on the roster with a grand total of six catches in the NFL last season.

That's a scary thought. But also, a golden opportunity for Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, Kellen Davis, Daniel Fells and Xavier Grimble.

Coach Tom Coughlin clearly hopes one of the younger players will emerge over the course of the summer and be ready to start come September. For the second straight week, when asked about the tight end situation Thursday, Coughlin immediately steered the conversation in that direction.

"What I do like," Coughlin said, "is the fact that the young guys have jumped in there and done, I think, a good job of understanding what’s been asked of them and really doing well in limiting their assignment errors."

Robinson, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, continued to get some reps with the first unit during Thursday's OTA. He has looked good this spring, although he didn't make any flashy plays this Thursday.

But remember, Robinson has been active for just three games in his first two NFL seasons, and has yet to catch a pass.

Coughlin has also spoken highly in the past of Donnell, the 25-year-old undrafted free agent out of Grambling, who had three catches for 31 yards in limited action last season.

The Giants signed another undrafted free agent, Grimble, formerly of USC, last month.

But don't forget about the two six-year veterans the Giants picked up in the offseason, Davis and Fells. Both have gotten first-team reps during OTAs as well.

Davis played in 15 games for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks last season. He had just three catches for 32 yards, but caught 19 passes for 229 yards with the Bears the year before.

Fells did not play in the NFL last season, but played in 13 games for the Patriots the year before. He had just four catches for 85 yards that season, but caught 41 passes for 391 yards with the Rams back in 2010.

Coughlin had good things to say about Davis and Fells on Thursday, too.

"Both of these guys are sharp, both of these veterans," the coach said. "They know their way around on the field. Obviously they’ve been in systems before. We just like to take what they’ve done and the reason that we were attracted to them, expand that."

The Giants could still sign or acquire another player at the position. But as of now, these five will battle it out during next week's three-day minicamp, and then training camp starting in late July.

If any spot is up for grabs on the Giants, this is it.

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