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Tight end trio looking to fill Boss' shoes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Travis Beckum. Jake Ballard. Bear Pascoe.

Yes, these are your three tight ends, Giants fans. And yes, you have reason to be concerned.

But don't push the panic button just yet. These three players sound highly motivated to prove their doubters wrong, starting with Sunday's regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins.

"When you lose a player like Kevin Boss -- he's a great player, and he caught a lot of balls for us last year," Ballard said after practice on Monday. "I guess it's hard for fans to realize, when he leaves, there's not gonna be anybody who can replace him. And I'm not saying any of us are trying to replace him. We're just trying to help out the team as best we can."

Boss, the Giants' starting tight end the past three seasons, signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 5. He had caught 110 passes for the Giants the past three years, including 35 catches for 531 yards and five touchdowns in 2010, and many fans were upset that the team did not make more of an effort to re-sign him.

But Giants general manager Jerry Reese has expressed confidence in the Giants' current crop of tight ends -- particularly Beckum.

"Kevin Boss caught 35 balls for us last year," Reese said Aug. 11. "Travis Beckum is certainly a guy we expect could catch 35 balls for us this year."

Beckum, the Giants' third-round draft pick in 2009 out of Wisconsin, appeared in all 16 games for the Giants last season and had 13 catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns. But he is undersized for an NFL tight end (6-foot-3, 234 pounds) and has struggled with injuries, including a hamstring problem during this year's training camp.

The player more comparable to Boss (6-6, 255) in size is Ballard (6-6, 275), an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State who spent time on the Giants' practice squad last season and appeared in one regular-season game.

Coach Tom Coughlin said Ballard improved as both a blocker and a receiver in this year's training camp. "He got better," Coughlin said Monday in his customary short-winded way.

But Ballard is still very inexperienced in the pass-catching department. He was primarily a run-blocking tight end at Ohio State -- in fact, he caught only 34 passes in four seasons.

Still, Ballard feels he has made great strides this preseason. "I definitely have a chip on my shoulder," Ballard said. "I guess maybe you could have thought I was a long shot, but I knew I could block and surprise them in the receiving game, and I think that's what I did."

The third member of the current tight end trio, Pascoe (6-foot-5, 283 pounds), was a sixth-round draft pick by San Francisco in 2009 but subsequently released by the 49ers. He then latched on with the Giants and last season caught nine passes for 72 yards.

Pascoe, however, was often used as a fullback in the Giants' offense last season. The Giants now have rookie fullback Henry Hynoski on the roster, but Pascoe is expected to see time at both fullback and tight end again. "You'll see him more in the rotation as a tight end than you will the other way," Coughlin said Monday, "but I wouldn't exclude him [from fullback]."

Giants fans are accustomed to having a productive tight end on their team -- think back to Mark Bavaro, a two-time All-Pro, or Jeremy Shockey, a Pro Bowler in four of his first five seasons with Big Blue.

Boss wasn't on the level of those two, but he did become a favorite target of quarterback Eli Manning over the years. Now Manning will be without Boss and another favorite target, wide receiver Steve Smith, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants' three current tight ends combined for just six catches for 69 yards in the team's four preseason games -- two catches apiece.

Beckum understands why the fans are concerned. "I think, especially in New York, when you get comfortable with something and it goes away or fades away, I think people are just shocked," Beckum said. "Guys were so used to seeing Steve make a great a play or so used to seeing Kevin make a great play, that they possibly don't think that someone [else] can fill those roles. ... But I think that there are guys on this team that can make plays as well."

Remember, Boss didn't enter the league as a much-hyped prospect, either -- he was a fifth-round draft pick out of Division II school Western Oregon.

One thing's for sure -- the opportunity is certainly there right now for one or more of these players to step up starting Sunday.

"We're gonna try hard to fill the void," Ballard said. "I think these three guys, we all have something different to bring to the table, and I think we're gonna do well together."