EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Daniel Bellinger has missed the Giants' last four games with an injury that is atypical for a football player. Because of that, his recovery and rehabilitation have included landmarks both familiar and alien to someone who wears an NFL uniform.
The Giants' rookie tight end suffered an injury to his left eye that included a fractured orbital bone in Jacksonville on Oct. 23. Bellinger had just caught a Daniel Jones' pass for a 13-yard gain when linebacker Devin Lloyd's hand inadvertently went through his facemask and hit his eye.
After surgery, swelling and an extended period of double vision, Bellinger today returned to a full-pads practice for the first time since he was hurt – with a visor affixed to his helmet as extra protection.
"The thing today was to see how I felt about the eye, and I wasn't apprehensive about it," Bellinger said. "I felt good going out there and I felt comfortable hitting and I didn't feel like I had to slow up or anything like that. I felt comfortable going out there and just playing ball."
He hopes to play in a game on Sunday, when the Giants host the Washington Commanders in a key NFC East clash in MetLife Stadium.
"I would say he's trending in the right direction," coach Brian Daboll said before practice. "So, we'll see how it goes out there today, but I'm optimistic for Belly."
Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s this Sunday as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.
Bellinger was an important contributor to the Giants' offense in the first seven games, six of which he started. The fourth-round draft choice from San Diego State was a sturdy blocker for the run game, caught 16 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns, and added another score on a two-yard run in the victory vs. Green Bay. He had scored in each of the two games immediately prior to getting hurt against the Jaguars.
Bellinger said the biggest challenge in returning to the field is "just getting back into a rhythm. Getting back into getting speed and I feel good about it. The biggest step was obviously hitting and hitting hard with my helmet and pads on, and it felt good today."
He also had an adjustment to make with the visor, which is part of his equipment for the first time.
"That's another thing, just getting used to that visor when I hit, and the sweat comes off it," he said. "I never had to wear one like that, so just kind of getting used to that as well. (It's) just something I still have to get used to with the visor, but it hasn't really affected me at all."
The injury certainly did. Bellinger was in significant pain when he was first hit. His eye was bloody, and he was unsure how the hit would affect his vision. His double vision is no longer an issue.
"It's been gone probably a few days," he said. "It's slowly getting back to where it was, and I was doing some convergence today and it's a lot better than what it was."
Bellinger said his improvement has been a steady process.
"Right after the injury, I had a few days before surgery for the swelling to go down," he said. "So, I'd say about a week until surgery and then post-surgery about a couple of weeks (was his vision as was pre-injury).
"The doctor, when I talked to him at my last appointment, he was saying at first, it's going to be really big jumps. At first, it's going to be like, 'Oh, you can't see anything and then after a while you'll see something.' But then he said as it progresses, it will get smaller and smaller. I'll notice small differences but then there will be big leaps like there was."
Bellinger continues to undergo vision tests with the Giants' medical staff, but "I've had no setbacks, which is good."
The remaining milestone left for Bellinger is experiencing the full contact of game action.
"The final step is to just see how I feel about it, but it's still going day by day and step by step to see how I feel," he said. "It's about, obviously, the hitting stuff, which I feel comfortable with, but it's also seeing the strain that the eye takes because the muscles when they took that blow, just kind of seeing the strain that they take with the physical activity each day.
"I'm still taking it day by day, just seeing how it feels, but today it felt good, and I felt comfortable."
*The Giants practiced in full pads today for the first time in three weeks.
"We'll do some good hitting, kind of see where guys are and take it day-by-day and get to Friday," Daboll said, "and hopefully we'll have some guys back (from injury)."
*Some other players who were inactive for the Dallas game could be ready to play Sunday, including Neal, center Jon Feliciano and cornerback Fabian Moreau. Three players who were on injured reserve returned to practice yesterday – linebacker Azeez Ojulari, guard Ben Bredeson and defensive back Tony Jefferson.
"I would say relative to the guys coming back, there's still a few days here," Daboll said. "Let's get through practice today, let's go to the next day. I don't want to make some split-second decision. I think that's one of the reasons we're going pads: Let's work a little bit on the running game. Let's get some of these guys back and see how they operate in contact stuff."
*The Giants are not required to release an injury report until tomorrow. Daboll said before practice three players would not participate: – cornerback Adoree' Jackson (knee), offensive lineman Joshua Ezeudue (neck) and guard Shane Lemieux, (toe). Running back Gary Brightwell also did not practice due to illness.