Giants rookie wide receiver Rueben Randle was the last player to jog on to the Timex Center practice field at Friday’s rookie minicamp practice session. The 6-foot-3 target out of LSU had a wide smile, stretched from ear to ear, as he joined his teammates for 7-on-7 drills.
The reason for the big grin?
“I was just excited to be playing football again. It felt great just getting back out there, on a football field. I’m ready to work, and now it really starts,” said Randle in the locker room after the morning practice session.
Another reason he could have been smiling? Mere minutes before the second-round pick’s jog on to the field, he finalized his first professional football contract. Across the locker room on Friday, there were several other young Giants rookies with smiles on their faces. New York, like the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens before them, pulled off something that would have been considered nearly impossible under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement — they signed all of their draft picks to contracts before rookie minicamp got under way.
Randle dropped the first two passes of his first NFL practice. After cornerback Brandon Bing knocked the first pass attempt thrown in Randle’s direction away, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell shouted, “Bada Bing!” to the delight of the media contingent watching from the end zone.
But a few plays later, Randle showed why the Giants had him graded as a first-round prospect and considered taking him with the 32nd overall selection in April’s NFL Draft. Running a “go” pattern along the sideline, Randle burned third-round pick Jayron Hosley for a big pass completion.
In an NFL game, the play would have gone for six points.
“It was a perfect pass. I ran the right route, and got a step on it,” said Randle, alluding to the play that had all the reporters nodding their heads.
Randle stood out from a pack of draft picks, undrafted free agents, and veteran free agents fighting for training camp invites and roster spots in East Rutherford this weekend. But unlike several of the other guys he lined up with on Friday, he’ll be expected to contribute in the Super Bowl champions’ title defense immediately. The Giants’ longtime third wide receiver and Super Bowl XLVI hero, Mario Manningham, signed with San Francisco this offseason.
“I admire Hakeem Nicks greatly. I admire Victor Cruz a lot, too,” said Randle. “I want to make an impact right away and think I can. Learning from those two will be a great opportunity. Mario Manningham was a great player, here. I want to be a great player. I just want to come in and make an impact and learn the playbook and do whatever is necessary to help this team. They brought me in for a reason.”
Members of the Giants coaching staff said Randle was “NFL ready” when the team pounced on the prospect after he slipped to the bottom of the second round in April’s draft.
Asked about that “NFL-ready” label, Randle — wearing Manningham’s old number 82 — said, “I definitely think I can get there. I have a lot of confidence in my abilities. And in addition to the coaches, a lot of the players have been and will be coaching me up [in training camp], too. They’re expecting big things from me, here. I am confident I can deliver.”
As Randle tended to a swarm of reporters, first-round pick, RB David Wilson, held court at his. Whereas Manningham left a spot open at the receiver position in New York, Brandon Jacobs’ signing with San Francisco opened up space at the running back position.
“Today felt like the first day of school or something,” Wilson said with a grin. “But I get to focus on one thing. I get to lock in on just football and focus on the playbook. Nothing else but football. That’s great.”
Though the 5-foot-10 first rounder isn’t as big as Jacobs, Wilson insists he can be a power runner at the next level.
“I led the NCAA in yards after contact last year. I like contact. I like being physical. I think, working with the other running backs here, I can make an impact between the tackles. For sure," Wilson said.
It feels like just days ago that the Giants were celebrating their second Super Bowl victory in four years, parading down the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan. But on Friday, three months after the Super Bowl XLVI win, there were new names and new faces in the Big Blue locker room, ready to make an impact.
“I’m joining a Super Bowl winning team,” said Wilson. “First rounder, second rounder, undrafted guy, whatever — that’s an honor. Walking in here, in these facilities, you could just feel it. There’s a professionalism, here. I’m just ready to learn the playbook and do my part for the New York Giants.”
With that attitude, he’ll fit in just fine.
No Jacobs, no Manningham, no Aaron Ross, no problem.