It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in the Giants’ tight end meeting room last year. Former positional coach Mike Pope would gather his players together, turn off the lights and play video highlights on a projection screen of past greats in Giants’ history.
There were clips of Mark Bavaro, Howard Cross, too. But there was one who resonated with present tight end Larry Donnell more than any other. And it took place on the same field he’ll step foot on this Sunday.
With wide eyes and amazement, Donnell watched a rookie Jeremy Shockey catch a pass in the Hall of Fame game more than a decade ago. The young Shockey turned up field and proceeded to run over several Houston Texan defenders, knocking one over with a mighty stiff arm. The play put thrust the first-round pick into the limelight for the first time and instantly into Giants’ fans hearts.
“Beast,” Donnell said with a smile. “He was given the opportunity to make a play and he did.”
This Sunday, Donnell will be given a similar opportunity on the same stage Shockey graced so many years ago. If things go his way, the second-year pro may provide a ‘shock’ factor of his own.
Embraced in a wide-open position battle, the 25-year-old Donnell presently sits atop New York’s depth chart. While every tight ends works in and out via rotation, Donnell has regularly been the first on the field for any full-team drill. When the team released its first ‘unofficial’ depth chart, Donnell was listed as No. 1.
“It’s good to see stuff like that,” Donnell said, “but you can’t get too carried away with it. My thought isn’t on the depth chart, it’s on doing what I can when my name is called.”
Through the first two weeks of training camp, ‘Donnell’ has been mentioned on a far more frequent basis.
After the offseason conditioning program and beginning portions of camp showed just ‘flashes,’ Donnell has started to shine. On Tuesday, Donnell caught a pair of touchdowns including an impressive one-handed grab on a fade route.
Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin has verbally mentioned Donnell’s name as a player who’s caught is eye. Captain and safety Antrel Rolle has said he’s “loving” the 6-6, 269-pound tight end.
But there are still parts of his game that need to be refined. Sure, Donnell – who was recruited as and played quarterback in high school – has flashed as a receiver. Blocking? That’s a work in progress.
Giants’ tight end coach Kevin Gilbride Jr. has mentioned the possibility of using a ‘tight end by committee’ approach, bringing in blockers when the team needs blockers and receivers when the team needs receivers. That doesn’t sit well with Donnell.
He knows he’s not there yet, but he’s working to establish himself as an all-around tight end, one that’s capable of playing every formation, every play and never coming off the field.
“You’re never satisfied,” Donnell said. “Right now, the receiving game is a strong point and I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to improve in the blocking game and foot working area, too. I want to become that every-down type of guy.”
Donnell’s shown the ability to do it in practice, but practice is practice. Sunday marks the first time this season he’ll show his teammates and coaches what he’s able to do in a game. Just like Shockey 12 years ago.
“The last time we played in this game, that play happened,” Donnell said. “Now I have a chance to make that happen. I’m excited about it and it’s a great opportunity.”