TE Adrien Robinson sprints through a drill in training camp.
When the New York Giants released their first "unofficial" depth chart on Thursday, August 1, running backs David Wilson and Andre Brown were listed as co-starters. That wasn't the case at tight end, where 2013 free agent acquisition Brandon Myers was listed as the lone starter, but, before camp closes, the Giants may be featuring more of an even split between Myers and second-year man Adrien Robinson.
Thursday's practice "belonged to the tight ends," according to Giants.com contributor Dan Salomone, who cited two impressive pass plays in which Myers and Robinson appeared to be "in sync" with quarterback Eli Manning. The duo will attempt to replace the 55 receptions Martellus Bennett (now with the Chicago Bears) hauled in during the 2012 season.
When it comes to receiving ability, Myers has a very high ceiling. He caught 79 passes with the Oakland Raiders in 2012, racking up over 800 yards while battling a strained shoulder. Many of those catches were of the "dink and dunk" variety when the hapless Raiders—who lacked offensive weapons—were already trailing and opposing defenses were sitting back, guarding against the big play.
Myers' role may undergo a significant shift with the Giants in 2013, however, as tight ends coach Mike Pope sees the 27-year-old former Raider as a plausible deep threat (via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York):
"I think at the Raiders he was more of an intermediate receiver. And now our passing game does allow the tight end to get more vertically down the field—flag routes, double seam routes, post routes. And he appears to have the skills to get those balls. He has a little bit of a jet that can accelerate and go get a ball that is a little deeper. You may not think he is going to reach it, but he has that little bit. So we are very interested to see him in pads."
While Myers may function like an extra wide receiver at times, the 250-pounder may struggle as a blocker. In fact, Myers graded as "the worst run-blocking tight end in football" in 2012, according to Patrick Thorman of Pro Football Focus. Bennett, on the other hand, was a strong run-blocker, so New York will need to be creative in its search to replace that service.
Bear Pascoe, who is currently listed as the team's second-string tight end, is an extremely reliable blocker. In four seasons with the Giants, Pascoe has caught only 26 passes, earning his keep primarily through his versatility and ability to stand up would-be tacklers. But with starting fullback Henry Hynoski recovering from an MCL injury, Pascoe is expected to take up more reps from the backfield, either as a true fullback or an H-back.
That means someone else needs to step up as a blocker from the tight end position, preferably a player who can keep defenders honest by developing into a threat in the passing game. If Robinson truly is the "JPP of tight ends," as general manager Jerry Reese infamously dubbed the 2012 fourth-round draft pick, he will be a bona fide candidate for the job.
Robinson's progress has been slow and steady. The Giants knew he was extremely raw coming into the league, and it showed in 2012, as Robinson played in only two games and did not catch a single pass. Pope likes where the project is headed, though (via Youngmisuk):
"Adrien Robinson appears to have gone into the land of believers. And yes he has been making some good progress. He is doing a lot of the assignment things correctly. Now we have to get him to adjust to the way the defense is playing on each particular play and to make the best decisions based on how the defense is playing. But he is running well and he has his weight down some."
It's uncertain what Pope actually means by "the land of believers," but we can only hope it means the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro honor, two achievements Pierre-Paul reached in only his second season as a professional.
That's obviously a long-shot goal for Robinson, who, at best, will split pass targets with Myers, the current first-teamer. To get him more involved, however, the Giants could utilize a one-two punch at tight end, which has been a rarity under the Manning regime.
Usually, one tight end dominates Manning's attention. Last season, for example, Bennett caught all but four of the passes completed to a tight end. On average, Manning has relied less on his tight ends since his fledgling years, as the position has averaged 57 receptions over the past four seasons.
During that same time, the No. 1 tight end has averaged 42.5 of those receptions, while the No. 2 tight end has averaged just 9.3. The remainder (about five catches per year) is accounted for by a few spot receptions by a third—or sometimes fourth—tight end each season. In 2012, only two tight ends (Bennett and Pascoe) caught passes.
Will the Giants utilize a tandem approach at tight end in 2013?
Giants.com contributor John Schmeelk projected that Myers could "have a chance to catch 60-70 passes," but that is an absolutely absurd prediction given recent history. No Giants tight end has broken 60 receptions since Jeremy Shockey caught 66 in 2006, a season in which he led the team in catches. Unless Myers unexpectedly surpasses both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to become Manning's No. 1 passing target, don't count on a replication of his 2012 production with the Raiders.
Instead, expect a more balanced passing attack. With the recent emergence of Rueben Randle as the third receiver and the offseason addition of speedy fourth wideout Louis Murphy, combined with a pair of formidable threats in Myers and Robinson at tight end, Manning will have plenty of opportunities to spread the ball around.