Giants’ Training Camp News and Notes: Can Randle be X-Factor for Big Blue?
With Hakeem Nicks leaving to go to Indianapolis, Big Blue will likely turn to 3rd-year receiver Rueben Randle, who finished third on the team in receiving yards with 611 last year and was targeted by Eli Manning 80 times (also third most). This year has to be different.
Randle knows what everyone is thinking. He knows nobody has forgotten his two seasons of inconsistent play, or the scary fact that seven of Eli Manning’s 27 interceptions last year were intended for him. He knows he’s made his share of mistakes, fallen asleep far too many times since he was labeled “NFL-ready” when he entered the league. But he’s changed, he insists. He gets it now.
“Yeah, most definitely,” Randle says. “I have an understanding of what’s going on now and what’s expected of me — and of what I want to do.”
“I just feel like I have the ability to score every game,” he adds. “I don’t have a number specifically, but I’m very confident that it will definitely be double-digits in touchdowns.”
The stage is set for a Randle breakout in 2014, if he can finally put it all together. Hakeem Nicks’ departure for Indianapolis has cleared the way for Randle to emerge as a star, opening the door for him to start opposite Victor Cruz and build on last year’s 41-catch, six-score season.
Randle is the team’s lone veteran receiver who stands taller than six-foot, the most physical presence in a corps of speedy, shifty route-runners. Others (think Cruz) will excite after the catch in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s Packer-like attack. But Randle remains the receiver most capable of the exciting catch, the Giant who presents the most dangerous one-on-one downfield threat. If Cruz is this team’s Randall Cobb (which he has drawn comparisons to), then Randle stands the best chance of being Jordy Nelson.
“I’ve got to play big,” he says. “They’re going to allow me to do that. My job is to make that big play, whether it be in the end zone or down the field.”
It’s a job that Randle believes he’s finally equipped to handle, largely because he finally understands the Giants offense. He quietly admits that he was “overwhelmed” in Kevin Gilbride’s complicated attack for the last two years, struggling to understand layers upon layers of reads and sight adjustments. In Gilbride’s system, Randle explains, he’d read a coverage, and then he’d have a handful of route options at his disposal. He needed to choose the same one Manning selected, or disaster would ensue. Randle admits he was often confused, because “there were so many gray areas in that offense.” Even after he spent some extra time with Manning around midseason last year, he struggled to truly grasp Gilbride’s concepts. “Some things might pop up that you didn’t go over,” he says, “and that’s going to cause some miscommunication with Eli . . . At least 80 percent of (Manning’s picks) are miscommunication, not being on the same page.” Randle doesn’t expect any of these things to happen in McAdoo’s offense. Once he reads a coverage now, he says, he has just one option.
“The reads are a lot simpler,” Randle says. “Last year, even if I adjusted to two-high (coverage) you had three or four ways I could go. This year, it’s not as dramatic or difficult. “Get open,” he says, “instead of having to go out there with our eyes wide open and playing hesitant because we’re still trying to see the same thing as Eli, because we had so many options.”
The early results have been encouraging. Through the first week of camp, Randle has made several solid catches. Most importantly, while he’s dropped a few passes, he’s rarely been completely out of position for Manning’s passes.
“The adjustments are (still) multiple, but he has had a really good approach,” says Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “And he did the same thing in the spring, and I am hoping it continues here as we get started early on.”
It’s been a different Randle throughout the spring and summer, a more focused one, because he understands the opportunity before him. The Giants handed him this starting role opposite Cruz, after all. GM Jerry Reese barely blinked when Nicks bolted, and he showed little interest in bringing in competition for Randle from the rest of the free-agent pool. When the NFL draft rolled around in May, Randle says he watched intently. With the 11th pick, the Giants did take a receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. But the undersized speedster, who has battled hamstring issues, seems more complement than competition.
“I just felt like this team was giving me a chance,” Randle says. “I know from the coaches, they’re expecting a lot out of me.”
So he spent his spare offseason time honing both his body and his mind. He arrived in camp weighing in at 208 pounds, seven pounds lighter than last year and exactly where the team wanted him, making him more prepared to play at the breakneck pace that McAdoo seems to want. And he arrived “completely” focused on football, he says, for the first time since he entered the NFL. Randle admits that his first two years in the league, he “felt like I could just go out there and do it.” And after playing such a key role in last year’s debacle, he’s relishing this second chance, and not about to waste it. He poured himself into his playbook during spring workouts, he says, and he’s no longer the quiet one in the receiver room.
“My focus in my head was I was going to understand everything, ask questions, know everything,” he says. “I’ve had a plan in my head that I wasn’t going to let anything distract me. Make sure I understand everything and play fast.” This year, in this offense, he promises things will be different. “I just feel like I have the ability to score every game,” he says. “I have to show it.”
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