- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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I understand those who want to grumble their so-whats about Monday's big David Wilson news. If you're a New York Giants fan, there's a chance you're sick of hearing so much about Wilson and seeing so little from him. The Giants' 2012 first-round pick hasn't made much of an impact, and even he'd admit he needs to show more than he's shown.
All of that said, Monday's news (via Wilson himself on Twitter) that Wilson has been "cleared for everything" following neck surgery can only be a positive for the Giants as they open training camp Tuesday. They were prepared to move forward, if they had to, without Wilson in their backfield. But they're in much better shape with him as a viable option.
Start with Wilson's raw ability. He touched the ball only 75 times on offense as a rookie in 2012, but he averaged 5.0 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception. A better look at his game-breaking speed showed up on kick returns, where his 26.9-yard average ranked among the league leaders. There is little doubt that when the ball is in his hands, Wilson is a threat to do something special.
The issue in 2013 was getting and keeping the ball in Wilson's hands. After Andre Brown was hurt in the final preseason game, the Giants installed and talked up Wilson as their workhorse starter -- a role for which he may not have been psychologically prepared. He fumbled twice in the opener and was benched for it. The Giants eased him back into the offensive mix in a Week 3 loss in Carolina and a Week 4 loss in Kansas City, showing good flashes before getting hurt in the Week 5 loss to the Eagles. And that was the end of his season. A lost season, to be sure, but Wilson just turned 23 last month and there remains plenty of time for him to remind us of all the positives he brings.
It's hard to know for sure what kind of role Wilson will occupy in the Giants' backfield this year, because injuries and circumstances always force changes in plans. But it's fair to assume the Giants will look for ways to use him, given that his speed offers them something their other running backs don't. Rashad Jennings was signed to be the do-it-all starter, but no one's sure he can be that. Power runner Andre Williams was drafted in the fourth round after a brilliant college season, but he needs work in pass protection and other areas before they can trust him enough to put him in a game. Peyton Hillis offers some reliability, but nothing special at this point. Michael Cox is a second-year back they like, but he brings his own question marks. Add Wilson to the mix and you have a group deep in talent and diverse in skill -- plenty of different toys for new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo as he builds the Giants' offense.
Not having to deal with the pressure of being the only real option at running back, as he was in Week 1 last year, should be a help to Wilson. The depth of this year's group should protect against the total collapse the Giants suffered due to injury at the position, and the creativity of the coaching staff in making opportunities for all of the backs tailored to their specific abilities should help the running game be more productive. The Giants also believe their offensive line will block better this year, which shouldn't be hard.
Still ultra-talented, Wilson is also now apparently healthy again. He's learned his lesson from last September about the way they want him to carry the ball in traffic, and the manner in which that lesson was taught ensures he's not going to forget it. The current structure of the Giants' roster should land him in positions that maximize what he does well and minimize what he still struggles with. All in all, the return of Wilson to the backfield can be only a positive for the Giants in 2014.
5hEric D. Williams