Pat Shurmur is known for getting the most out of his quarterbacks, but the Giants’ new head coach rose through the ranks working with tight ends and offensive linemen. There is no coincidence there.
In order for the passers to succeed, the big bodies need to do their jobs. We will get more into the offensive linemen later, but today we start our summer position series with the tight ends, a position on with a little bit of everything that will make for an intriguing competition come training camp. First, let’s start with the new position coach:
Lunda Wells: They say the hardest position to coach is one that the head coach ran at some point in his career. But Shurmur, who spent time as a tight ends coach with the Vikings, Eagles and his alma mater, Michigan State, certainly thought Lunda Wells was up for the task. Wells has been a member of the Giants’ staff since 2012, but this will be his first season as the team’s tight ends coach. Wells was an offensive assistant in his first season, and was the assistant offensive line coach from 2013-17. Last season, Wells helped the line maneuver through numerous injuries that forced the Giants to use 10 different starting offensive line combinations, their highest single-season total since the 1970 merger.
“[I’m] starting at ground zero just like everybody else in the offense,” Wells said at the beginning of spring workouts. “I’m understanding that with the position of coaching the tight ends, you’re an extension of the offensive line coach in the run game and you’re an extension of the quarterback and the receiving coach in the pass game, so [I’m] understanding that and embracing those two areas.”
These are the players he is coaching:
Evan Engram: Three of the top four rookie pass-catchers in franchise history have come along in the past four seasons. Odell Beckham Jr. is first with 91 receptions in 2014; Sterling Shepard is second with 65 in 2016; and Evan Engram is fourth with 64 in 2017 (Jeremy Shockey is second with 74 in 2002). Engram, the team’s first-round draft choice out of Ole Miss, was selected to the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team and emerged as one of the most productive players at the position regardless of NFL tenure.
Balanced and unpredictable are some themes emerging from what we know about Pat Shurmur’s vision for the offense. No. 88 can help in both of those facets, notably in how he makes the opponent have to think long and hard about what package to put on the field. Is he a wide receiver? Is he a tight end? What do you do when he’s out there with Rhett Ellison?
“I try not to talk about the first, the second or the third receivers,” Shurmur said. “I think that’s something that when people start stacking up rosters and really depth charts outside the building. So we’re going to put the players in there and use them to the best of their ability and try to get them the ball. The fact that we have a pass-catching tight end is something that is very valuable to a team because now a defense has to decide when you have two tight ends and him being one of them, him being Evan, that are they going to stay base or play nickel? And then the chess game begins from there.”
With a deep arsenal of weapons for Eli Manning to choose from, Engram said “the ball’s going to find the best player” on any given play in this offense. Engram will look to take his game to the next level and be that player more often than not.
“The thing I’ve noticed, just being out here, going full-speed, is that the game is a lot more slowed down,” said Engram, whose workload increased exponentially last year with injuries at wide receiver. “The game has slowed down a lot. And that’s allowing me to kind of dig deeper into my bag of route techniques, or getting open and being able to focus more on the run game and getting stronger and just getting more comfortable out there. Last year, I kind of was, head was on a swivel a lot, the game was so fast and I wasn’t used to it. But just having a year under my belt and kind of getting thrown into some tough situations last year definitely helps slow the game down and allowed me to kind of focus on a lot of the little things and enhance my talents to be a better player.”
Rhett Ellison: The thunder to Engram’s lightning, Ellison is a pro’s pro with some prior experience playing under Shurmur, who was his tight ends coach and eventually interim offensive coordinator in Minnesota. Ellison joined the Giants the following year in 2017 and played in all 16 games with 14 starts. Ellison, known for his blocking, set career highs in receptions (24), yards (235) and touchdown catches (two) last season while balancing out the electric Engram, which makes for a dynamic duo in two tight end sets.
“Shurmur, he is what you’re going to get, like that’s who he is,” Shurmur said. “He doesn’t change around different people or in different positions. He is who he is. He’s real, he’s a great communicator and he’s a great teacher. The speed that we’re picking up this offense is really awesome and that’s a credit to him and the coaches that he hired.”
Jerell Adams: Adams, a sixth-round draft pick by the Giants in 2016, has played in all but three games in his first two seasons, including the full 16 in 2017. He started three of those games while his career numbers include 24 receptions for 214 yards and a touchdown. At 6-5 and 254 pounds, Adams is one of the bigger players on the roster but has shown soft hands at times, including this spring during OTAs and minicamp.
Scott Simonson: Simonson is the newest member of the group after signing on June 12. Simonson, who spent the entire 2017 season on the Panthers’ injured reserve list with a back injury, has played in 18 regular-season games with one start for both Oakland and Carolina. He has also played in three postseason games, including Super Bowl 50. A native of Red Bank, N.J., Simonson entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Raiders in 2014.
Garrett Dickerson: Signed in early June, Dickerson Dickerson is an undrafted rookie from Northwestern University. He also attended Bergen Catholic High School, which is just 13 miles from MetLife Stadium. Dickerson, 6-3 and 248 pounds, played in 49 games at Northwestern, where he caught 87 passes for 887 yards and nine touchdowns. As a senior in 2017, he was selected honorable mention All-Big Ten.
“We thought that in really a short period of time he showed us that he was smart and he had instincts, runs around well, he catches the ball and we’re just trying to keep reshaping the 90-man roster as we get ready for training camp,” Shurmur said earlier this month when the team signed Dickerson. “We felt like it was a good time to bring in these guys to kind of give them a two weeks head start into the summer and then certainly training camp. So we liked what we saw in a short exposure, so we’re going to bring him in and try to learn more.”
Kyle Carter: Carter was claimed off waivers from Minnesota in February, a few weeks after the Vikings’ run to the NFC Championship Game with Shurmur as their offensive coordinator. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Carter Penn State product originally joined the Vikings in 2016 and spent time on and off their practice squad for the next two years. He has appeared in three career games, all in 2017.
Ryan O'Malley: Re-signed this offseason, O’Malley, 6-6 and 260 pounds, was added to the Giants’ practice squad on Dec. 12, 2017 and to the active roster on Dec. 30. He played in the season finale vs. Washington the following day. He has also spent time with the Raiders and Bills.