With training camp fast approaching, the battle for the Giants' No. 3 receiver spot should be starting to heat up, and with Hakeem Nicks still out after breaking his foot in May, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for some other guys to step up.
One of the other guys is fourth year receiver Ramses Barden. Barden is in the last year of his rookie contract and with Nicks out and Mario Manningham taking his talents to San Francisco, every guy will be given plenty of chances to prove what he can do and Barden should be taking full advantage of every one.
However, the road to more playing time won't be easy. With guys like Domenik Hixon and rookie Rueben Randle getting a lot of attention, Barden will have to pick up his level of play if he wants to see the field more. This is the first offseason that he has been completely healthy for the entirety of the summer so right off the bat he's doing better than he has in past seasons, but he'll need more than that.
To this point in his career, Barden has only brought in 15 receptions for 174 yards and no touchdowns. The Giants are going to be looking for that kind of production in the first three games of the season from their No. 3 receiver.
Here are five ways that Barden needs to improve if he wants to see more playing time, or stay a Giant at all.
One thing you always hear analysts and coaches talk about when it comes to receivers is "route-running." What they mean is the players ability to run the route he is supposed to effectively or not.
Believe it or not, between the speed these guys are trying to play at and the defense trying to stop you, not to mention the other 21 guys on he field at any given time, it's pretty easy to lose track of where exactly you are on the field as opposed to where you''re supposed to be. Some guys are better at it than others.
This is one area where Barden needs to make huge strides. Because he is 6'7" and not the most agile guy on the team (more on that in a second) running crisp routes would give him an enormous leg up in terms of getting open and using that frame to get the ball upfield.
One way to get open is run good, crisp routes. Sometimes, however, that isn't enough. Elite cornerbacks can get in and out of breaks and react to cuts better than most people on that planet, so against them, being where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there doesn't get the job done.
That's where another little skill called creating separation comes in. Creating separation is what coaches and analysts use to describe a receiver's ability to get away from his defender whether it's with his speed or using his size to create an opening for the quarterback.
At 6'7" Barden has the body type that can really create issues for corners and safeties. If he can work on his quickness he'll be able to get in and out of his cuts and use his size to his advantage.
One of the most obvious ways that Barden can make himself a more dangerous option at receiver is by working on his top end speed. Remember when everyone wanted the fastest kid on their team at recess, think of that basic formula. If no one can actually catch you, it's going to be pretty hard to stop you from catching the ball.
I know that it's a little late to develop blazing speed, but with the proper combination of weight-lifting and conditioning drills, it isn't impossible for Barden to make himself just a little bit faster and at this level, "just a little bit" can make a huge difference.
To me, yards after catch is one of the most important stats for receiver. Obviously being able to get open and effectively catch the ball are the two biggest needs, but YAC is right up there for me.
Look at the Giants other two starting receivers. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are two of the best when it comes to running after of the catch. Look at Week 17 against the Cowboys when Cruz busted off a 74-yard touchdown, but had to run about 60 yards after the catch, if not more, to get it.
Same goes for the Divisional playoffs against Green Bay. Hakeem Nicks catches a ball about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, bounces off a tackler and runs the rest of 66 yards to put the Giants up 10-3 on the road.
Running after the catch is a big part of what the Giants do offensively and if Barden wants in on it, he'll have to make himself a better runner after the catch.
This is one of the most underrated aspects of a receiver's skill set. His relationship with his quarterback goes way beyond their individual skill sets. Eli Manning has proven that he is the kind of quarterback who can make receivers better.
Being healthy this offseason will be a huge help for Barden as he tries to develop better chemistry with his quarterback. If I were Barden, I'd practically ask to sleep on Manning's couch if it meant I could work out with him, improve our timing and trust in one another.
If Barden can improve these areas, look for him to make an impact in the Giants offense this season.