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Special Teams are rookies' window to roster spot

Posted May 18, 2017

Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn expects contributions from the rookie class:

When fans think about the impact of a draft class, they immediately think about how the newly-acquired players can help the team on offense and defense. Coaches, on the other hand, also consider the potential contributions on special teams.

It’s a requirement for young players to put in the effort and contribute on return and coverage teams. It helps them earn not just a spot on the 53-man active roster, but also the 46-man game day roster that gets them a jersey to play on Sundays.

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Linebacker B.J. Goodson, the Giants’ fourth-round pick in 2016, learned that lesson as a rookie last season when he got the vast majority of his snaps on special teams.

“It’s really big,” He said. “You have the 53-man roster and once you take those special teams guys off, you are down to 43 or 42. So being able to play special teams is very, very, important.”

Of this year’s draft class, the two players with the physical ability to be core special teams contributors are running back Wayne Gallman and tight end Evan Engram. Davis Webb, a quarterback, won’t be asked to play special teams. Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty, two big bodies, might be asked to participate in field goal protection or field goal block, but they likely won’t be asked to run the length of the field in coverage or on returns.

Even though Engram is a first-round pick, coach Ben McAdoo expects him to do some of the dirty work and contribute on special teams. 

Special teams will be big for him,” McAdoo said of Engram’s ability to earn playing time. “That will be big early on. He will have a chance to make an immediate impact there as he learns and grows on the offensive side.”

Engram made it a point at rookie minicamp practice last Friday to be the first player in line during special teams drill. At 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds with 4.4 speed, Engram has all the physical attributes necessary to thrive, and special teams coordinator Tom Quinn will have to figure out where best to use him.

“We’ll use him in all different spots,” Quinn said. “He’s got good speed. Obviously, this is the first time we have our hands on him. I think he’ll be very willing. He has good height, weight, speed. He’s a little bit faster than your normal tight end, linebacker type. I think he’ll be a positive addition to us.”

The Giants once used Jason Pierre-Paul as a gunner on punt coverage, which led to Quinn being asked whether he could see Engram playing a similar role.

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“Probably wouldn’t be a gunner,” Quinn said. “Probably be like an interior type player, a speed player. We’ll see where he fits once we can get our hands on him. All these guys coming in, we don’t expect them to have played that much special teams. It all varies on their college coach’s decisions. We take it as a blank slate and we go from there.”

As for Gallman, the Clemson product did not return kicks in college, but running backs can often fill that role in the NFL.

“Possibly,” Quinn said. “He hasn’t done much of that. He could be like Paul Perkins was. I thought Paul Perkins did an excellent job. He came in here with very little special teams experience and midway through the season, he was probably one of our best coverage guys. Running backs have a good skillset for special teams. They have the speed and the size. We like these running backs on special teams.”

Giants rookies will spend a lot of time with Quinn this spring and summer, trying to learn the ropes of special teams. For some, it might be their best way onto the field. For others, it is a way to make the team. It might not be what brings fans to their feet at training camp, but it is one of the most important evaluations the coaches will make this offseason.