NFC East: daniel fells

Tight end Jerome Cunningham, who was released a week ago when the New York Giants reduced their roster to 75, is back with the team and has signed with the practice squad. That news comes courtesy of Cunningham's agent, Howard Shatsky, who tweeted it Tuesday afternoon.

 
The Giants liked Cunningham, who signed after the start of camp, and believe he could develop into a contributor at a position of significant need for them at some point this season. They initially planned to keep four tight ends on their active roster, but they only ended up keeping three after cutting veteran Kellen Davis on Saturday. So it's not certain they'd need an injury to Larry Donnell, Adrien Robinson or Daniel Fells to put Cunningham on the roster.

The Giants ended up keeping six wide receivers, largely because of the injury that continues to sideline first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. Once Beckham is healthy, the Giants likely can get by with five wide receivers (of whom Beckham would be one), and if they wanted to go back to four tight ends at that time they could add Cunningham.

The addition of Cunningham brings the number of players on the Giants' practice squad to nine. They are allowed up to 10. They had several players in for workouts Tuesday to try out for the final spots. One of those players was Ball State wide receiver Willie Snead, who spent training camp with the Cleveland Browns.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' hope, when training camp began, was that someone from their group of unproven tight ends would emerge as a clear starter -- a do-it-all tight end who could be used in a variety of roles.

That has not happened.

"I really think that there'll be a group of guys that'll play that'll help us in different situations and will be matched up according to the circumstance," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after practice Monday. "I think that's where it's going to go. I think there's a lot of roles for that spot."

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The four tight ends likely to make the final roster are, in no particular order, Larry Donnell, Adrien Robinson, Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis. Donnell was the nominal starter for much of camp, but Davis was the starter in Friday's preseason game against the Jets. Robinson played every snap of the successful two-minute drive at the end of the first half. Fells has returned from a knee injury to take a larger role in practice recently.

"I think it's very close," Coughlin said. "I think, some days, it's very difficult to see who has done what better than someone else."

Coughlin and the Giants won't say this publicly, but the reason for this is that there isn't a strong option in the group. As a result, an offense that wants its tight end to play a large role will have to shuffle players in and out at the position depending on whether they need a run blocker, a receiving option, an H-back ... whatever role a certain play, opponent or situation calls for.

"That's not necessarily what the play was, but the plan has evolved to that," Coughlin said. "People can be utilized for their skills in different ways."

The Giants open the regular season in two weeks in Detroit against the Lions.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He's been the No. 1 tight end on the New York Giants' depth chart since training camp started, but Larry Donnell knows he's neither a sure thing nor a finished product. Asked what he needs to do to lock down that starting job, Donnell said Thursday, "Be a playmaker," which is a fine, football-sounding answer but not a complete one.

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The Giants' new offense, led by new coordinator Ben McAdoo, would like to use the tight end a lot. The issue is that none of the tight ends on the roster is an established starter. Donnell leads the pack in the coaches' minds right now, but Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson, Kellen Davis or even undrafted rookie Xavier Grimble could end up overtaking him. Which is why Donnell isn't getting comfortable.

"It's a confidence builder," Donnell said of being listed first on the depth chart. "But at the same time, I don't really think too much about it. I'm out there with the ones, the twos, the threes, it doesn't matter. It's a good feeling, especially where I came from, being a backup. But I just feed off of that. Never get too comfortable. Keep grinding."

Donnell has caught the ball as well as any tight end in camp, which isn't saying a whole lot. But the key to his holding the spot may be improvement as a blocker in the run game. Earlier in the week, McAdoo was praising Donnell's camp performance but also said he's "capable of blocking sometimes better than he does on tape."

Asked what he thought that meant, Donnell said: "Sometimes I make little mistakes that don't put me in the best situation or the best position. So I'm just trying to improve that so I can show more. We've only had two games so far, so he must be talking about the first one. I felt like I didn't do so well in the first game. Second game, I felt like I picked it up a little bit. So in my opinion, he's probably talking about the first game."

Donnell blocked downfield fairly well on a couple of run plays in that game, but he got overwhelmed a bit at the line of scrimmage and needs to be tougher and more aggressive there. Because they love his work ethic and his special-teams contribution -- and in part because Fells has been hurt and Robinson hasn't shown much of anything -- the Giants' coaches seem to want Donnell to seize the job. To this point, neither he nor anyone else has done so. They have about three and a half more weeks to sort it all out.

Giants Camp Report: Day 14

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:
  • Wide receiver Victor Cruz is worth watching over the next couple of days. He missed practice Monday with a knee issue, and while he returned to practice Tuesday, he went down in a collision with a defensive back in one-on-one drills and was limping a bit when he got up. He returned to practice and caught a long pass in double coverage a few plays later, but he wasn't on the field very much for the two-minute drill that ended practice on a field that was starting to get slippery due to light rain. It goes without saying that the Giants' wide receiver corps, which is littered with unproven entities, could not stand to lose Cruz.
  • Some injured guys are working their way back, though. Rookie receiver Odell Beckham made good on his promise to keep progressing from his hamstring injury. He worked in individual drills Tuesday and was the intended target on one of quarterback Eli Manning's interceptions in 7-on-7 drills. Also catching passes was tight end Daniel Fells, who'd missed some time earlier in camp with a knee injury. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo named Fells and Larry Donnell when asked who among the tight end group has stood out so far. Donnell has been the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart all camp, but Fells has the best chance of anyone to overtake him from what I've seen.
  • Second-year safety Cooper Taylor continues to impress. He kept running back Rashad Jennings from getting around the corner on one run play I noticed in team drills.
  • Veteran defensive end Israel Idonije, who signed last week, could be getting a legitimate look for a roster spot. He's been getting some defensive end reps, and it helps his cause that Idonije is a player who can contribute at a high level on special teams, where he's been working a lot. Just something to keep an eye on.
  • Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan (knee), return man Trindon Holliday (hamstring), fullback John Conner (concussion), running back Peyton Hillis (ankle), defensive tackle Mike Patterson (shoulder), cornerback Jayron Hosley (foot) and tight end Xavier Grimble (hamstring) all sat out. Coach Tom Coughlin said Conner looks as though he could practice this week and that Hillis' progress is "slow."
  • Former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was a guest at practice Tuesday and watched from the sideline.
  • The Giants practice from 1:20 pm to 3:30 pm ET on Wednesday. Practice is open to the public.

Giants Camp Report: Day 8

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:
  • There seemed to be a lot more practice reps than usual for backup quarterbacks Ryan Nassib and Curtis Painter on Thursday, likely because those are the quarterbacks who'll get the most playing time in Sunday night's preseason opener in Canton, Ohio. Eli Manning was fine and worked with the first team, don't worry. But it seemed as though the guys more likely to play Sunday got on the field a bit more on Thursday.
  • Nassib had some nice throws, including one to running back Kendall Gaskins up the left side with linebacker Devon Kennard in coverage, one that Corey Washington high-pointed on the right sideline and one on which Travis Harvey shook Prince Amukamara in the open field and got clear for a long gain. Painter had a ball tipped in the air and intercepted by Jordan Stanton. And the last play of practice was a Manning pass that Jacquian Williams batted into the air and Jameel McClain intercepted near the goal line.
  • Tight ends continue to be everywhere. There was a play on which Daniel Fells was the receiver lined up wide left and Larry Donnell was in the backfield. Running back Peyton Hillis was the one who ended up with the ball on that play, but it's clear the Giants would like to use the tight end liberally, and in a wide variety of roles, in their new offense. Now they just need to find one they can consider a starter.
  • Wide receiver Rueben Randle, who missed Tuesday's practice with a sore hamstring, was back practicing Thursday and made a nice touchdown catch from Manning in the back of the end zone. He and the tight ends (who are all 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7) seem to be the primary and logical red zone targets since the rest of the receiving corps lacks height. Another reason they want the tight ends to step up. Fells caught a touchdown pass from Manning in goal-line drills, and Victor Cruz dropped one on the very next play.
  • Before he had to leave practice due to an illness, I thought left tackle Will Beatty was doing a good job dictating the action in his one-on-one matchups with Jason Pierre-Paul. Charles Brown got the bulk of the practice reps at left tackle, though. Beatty isn't likely to play Sunday, but he's done a good job so far in his recovery from a broken leg.
  • The Giants are scheduled to practice from 1:20 pm to 3:30 pm ET Friday and have Saturday off as they travel to Canton for Sunday night's game.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The crux of the New York Giants' tight end problem, with six weeks until the regular season begins, continues to be this: Their new offense wants to rely on the tight end to a significant extent, but it still doesn't really have a tight end on which it can rely.

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"Right now, we're looking for that complete tight end who can do it all," Giants tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride said Monday. "But we also need guys who are role players -- guys who can be specialists in certain areas. If he's best at executing a certain block, he's going to have the opportunity to make that block in the game. If he's best at running a certain route, he's going to have the opportunity to run that route in a game. So you need to have that all-around tight end, and then you also need to have specialists, guys who are great at a particular role."

The problem is that, to this point, no one from the group that includes Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Kellen Davis and Xavier Grimble has established himself as the all-around guy.

"I think right now, they've all got a shot at doing it," Gilbride said. "They're all very good in certain areas right now and not as efficient or as good in other areas. In order to become that all-around tight end, they need to continue to develop."

Gilbride wouldn't handicap the competition, but based on what we've seen so far at practice, Fells looks like the most capable pass-catcher. Donnell made an excellent leaping catch on a seam throw from Ryan Nassib in practice Monday, a short time after Fells caught a touchdown pass from Eli Manning. Davis made a great catch on a seam-route throw from Nassib on Sunday. Robinson has always been a capable run-blocker and continues to show that. The Giants have tried their best to rotate all of the tight end candidates in with the first-team offense to give them all a chance to show what they can do. But it's too early for anyone to have separated himself.

"Every time they get on the field, they know they're being evaluated with everything that they do," Gilbride said. "When guys start to emerge, we'll know it."

So far in camp, we have seen tight ends lined up all over the formation -- in the slot, in tight, out wide... even in the backfield in a fullback or H-back role. Gilbride said that's not a case of experimentation; it's an integral part of the offense and something their tight ends will have to do. The new running game includes more zone and stretch concepts that will require the tight ends to be nimble and flexible as blockers. There is a lot to the job.

"I would describe it as 'Jack of all trades,'" Gilbride said. "Having them be in the backfield and playing a lot of that fullback role, splitting them out as the No. 1 receiver, the No. 2. An in-line tight end as far as the blocking and the pass receiving. It's a jack of all trades and they have to master them all. It's an exciting, fun position in this offense, but we need to continue to develop in order to be ready to help our team win football games."

The Giants could keep as many as four tight ends on their roster, especially if they wrap up the preseason with the same issue they have now -- guys who have disparate strengths and weaknesses and have to be mixed and matched in and out of the lineup depending on circumstances. But Gilbride made it clear that's not the ideal situation.

"I think you can get it done with the specialist-type thing, but that's not really what we're looking for," he said. "What we're really looking for is to develop a number of overall tight ends who can do it all."

The search continues.
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.

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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."
Getting close to the end of our position-by-position look at four-year unrestricted free agency and the way it could play out in the NFC East. We're going to take a look at the tight end position, where the Cowboys and Redskins are set and really so are the Eagles, though I'm going to include them for a number of reasons, some of which are outlined below. Two of the top options, Owen Daniels and Marcedes Lewis, are off the board, as Daniels signed a new deal with Houston and Lewis was designated a franchise player by the Jaguars.

NFC East teams in need

Giants: The Giants have a few key players who would be free-agent eligible under the proposed rules, and one of those is valuable tight end Kevin Boss. The Giants like Boss a lot and would love to re-sign him, but they want to re-sign quite a number of their players, including Ahmad Bradshaw, Mathias Kiwanuka, Steve Smith and Barry Cofield, and someone is going to slip through the cracks. If it turns out to be Boss, the Giants are probably going to need to find someone to replace him or at least provide a safety net in case Travis Beckum isn't ready to take over the position.

Eagles: Brent Celek is one of the better tight ends in the league, and given the rest of the offensive weapons the Eagles have at their disposal it's hard to imagine them making this a high priority item. But I saw this item recently about how Andy Reid is enamored of the idea of a two-tight-end set, and since more and more coaches are using them, I don't think you can rule out the possibility that Reid and the Eagles would explore it. And I'm not sure Clay Harbor is the answer if they do. So here they are, "need" or not.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent tight ends:

1. Zach Miller. He's averaged 61 catches per seaosn over the past three seasons with absolutely no reliability or stability at the quarterback position in Oakland. He likely would thrive in a more active and potent passing offense, and he's probably looking to do just that. Should get a very nice contract.

2. Boss. On the other hand, Boss is a guy who has played in a big-time passing offense the past two seasons but just hasn't been one of its top targets. A reliable blocker and route-runner who's looked, at times, like a good red zone target for Eli Manning, Boss fits his role well in New York and would probably do well to stay.

3. Bo Scaife. Has been more of a blocker than a receiver in Tennessee. So if the Eagles really did want to go that way, he'd be a nice complement to Celek. I still don't see it, but they always surprise you, those Eagles.

4. David Thomas. He's been a good backup for the Saints who can catch passes when needed but isn't going to bug the coaches about wanting to do more. Might be a nice fit for either of the teams we're talking about, assuming he could handle a starter's workload if he ended up in New York.

5. Daniel Fells. There are better overall options, but I'm putting Fells on this list because, if some team is looking for a tight end who can function as a red zone target and won't need to be a passing-game factor otherwise, Fells could be the man. He hasn't done too much in St. Louis, but they've had quarterback and receiver issues there as well. This guy lists at 6-foot-4, 272 pounds and has caught five touchdown passes over the past two seasons.

Predictions that mean nothing: Giants re-sign Boss, and the Eagles, always looking to keep multiple options open, do bring in a guy from further down on the list. Maybe a guy like Fells who can be a bruiser near the goal line.

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