Larry Donnell thought back to the first time he got his hands on Giants’ new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s playbook. It didn’t take long for the tight end’s eyes to begin to grow.
Excitement almost instantly set in. Gone were the days of blocking and outlet routes. No longer would the tight end position be a ‘safety valve.’ Its role now? Well, Donnell couldn’t talk without an ear-to-ear smile forming across his face.
“There’s plenty of reads where we’re the first read,” Donnell said “We’re the first option.”
The fact the Giants have new plans for the position is hardly a shock. From the first time this year’s corps of tight ends met the media, each gushed about how much more “moving” they would be doing. The tight end wouldn’t just be lining up outside the tackle; it could be anywhere.
During the team’s OTAs and mini-camp, the early talk was put on display. There were formations where three tight ends lined up on the field at once, one that had the tight end split out wide as a receiver, and even in the backfield. It was anyone’s guess as to where the position would be found.
“It’s fun when we put all of those tight ends in the game,” Donnell said. “It’s fun lining up in different spots. They can’t really ‘key’ on any one of us because you don’t know what we’re gonna give you.”
Labeled a ‘position of need’ this offseason, New York did very little to add to the tight end meeting room. Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis were signed as free agents while Xavier Grimble was added as an undrafted rookie. Donnell and former fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson returned.
General Manager Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin both proclaimed it would be an open competition with each player getting their shot to earn a spot atop the depth chart. Early on, it’s looking like nothing could be more true.
Maybe a bigger question as to where the tight end will be lining up is whom exactly will be the player taking the field?
“Everyone is getting a chance to go out there and make plays. Everyone is getting a chance to play,” Donnell said. “Right now everyone is rotating in and that’s how it’s going.”
One day it’ll be Robinson. The next? Davis. Or Grimble, or Donnell, or Fells. There’s no set order. No sign of a front runner. Each player has flashed.
“I think we have a nice group there,” McAdoo said. “We have big men in that room. I like the way they think about the game and I like the way they’re moving around on the field.”
Donnell is the living definition of a ‘physical specimen.’ He has the size (6-6, 269-pounds) to overpower defenders and possesses deceptive quickness. A near identical description to position-mate Adrien Robinson, who was once famously dubbed the ‘JPP of tight ends’ by Reese.
In a recent interview with WFAN, Reese hinted the team had high expectations for the duo last year before injures marred both their seasons. If Robinson and Donnell stay healthy, the ‘position of need’ may already be filled.
“We have some athletic, big guys who can run and catch the football,” Reese said. “(Robinson and Donnell) can be dynamic if we can get them going.”
While the coaching staff and front office have their questions, Donnell is counting down the days until he can put on pads and supply an answer. He knows what he’s capable of. Finally, he has an opportunity to show it.
“I can do all the things they ask. I think I’m versatile,” Donnell said. “I can line up in the backfield and play that role, then I can split out wide and play there.
“I’m learning the game more each day and becoming a better student. I understand the game better than when I first entered the league and have a good grasp on it. I’m learning, I’m growing and I’m becoming a better player.”