EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Darren Waller relishes the opportunity to immerse himself in the cauldron that is the NFC East.
After spending his first seven NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders, the former Pro Bowl tight end will make his Giants debut in the season opening Sunday night game against the division rival Dallas Cowboys. Waller has played in heated division clashes (Ravens-Steelers, Raiders-Chiefs), but the longtime conflicts in the NFC East deliver a special intensity.
"Like I've said before, growing up in a house with my parents, NFC East fans, I know the history," Waller said after Tuesday's practice. "I know how heated and competitive these games have been over the years and I know what I'm about to step into on Sunday. I am honored to take the field.
"I didn't really hate the (Cowboys) players. I just know my parents were kind of like anti-Cowboys as far as their team, so I understood what the deal was. But as far as the players, I always loved the players, but probably the biggest one (has) to be Odell (Beckham Jr.), probably."
View rare photos from the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
This is the third time in four seasons Waller will play in an early-season prime time game. In 2020, the Raiders played a Week 2 Monday night game in New Orleans. Two seasons ago, they beat Baltimore in overtime on a Kickoff Weekend Monday night. In those two contests, Waller caught 22 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns.
"I think these games are dope," Waller said. "When I was with Vegas, we had a primetime game pretty early. We played the Saints and then we played the Ravens the following year so just having those games out of the gate, it's exciting. Those are the kind of environments that you want to play in. You know everybody's watching and playing against a really good team. I feel like it's going to bring the best out of you pretty early on."
The Giants and their fans are counting on Waller to be at his best this year. When he was last healthy for an entire season, in 2020, Waller recorded career-high totals of 107 receptions, 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns. In two injury gutted seasons since, he totaled 83 catches for 1,053 yards and five scores.
General manager Joe Schoen acquired Waller for a third-round draft choice in March. In the spring drills and training camp, he became Daniel Jones' go-to target, a receiver who can outrun defenders to catch a deep pass or bully them while making a contested grab over the middle.
A reporter said to Waller today that people expect him to come out "and have like eight catches for 100 something odd yards" Sunday night. Waller welcomes the challenge and, yes, he is aware expectations for him are high.
"I mean of course you do, it's there, it's available, it's noise and the expectations people have," he said. "I actually watched a video, I don't know if you know who (motivational speaker and former college football player) Inky Johnson is, but he had a video talking about expectations are external, but standards are what's internal. You can have a standard that's what you have for yourself. My standard is however many plays come to me, however many opportunities come to me, I try to make the most of those and if it ends up being eight for some bigger plays, then that is what it is. But just one at a time, trying to keep it as simple as possible."
Waller is one of the new offensive weapons quarterback Daniel Jones will have at his disposal. The others include veteran wideout Parris Campbell, third-round draft choice Jalin Hyatt and two wideouts who returned to the field after tearing ACLs last season, Sterling Shepard and Wan'Dale Robinson.
"I think I feel great about our guys," Jones said. "I feel like we're in a really good spot with who we've got and how we can attack a defense in a lot of different ways and a lot of different skillsets and dynamic guys to get the ball to in space, so yeah, I feel great about our group."
In four opening day games, Waller has 27 receptions for 299 yards and one score. He wants to make his Giants debut one to remember. That was evident when he was asked about today's practice.
"Definitely excitement," he said. "It's a longer week, we have more practice days than usual practice weeks so it's like, alright definitely take advantage of the opportunities, make sure we are consistent, making plays in practice. But you know, it's hard not to be excited for the season to get rolling. We've been practicing so much against each other; you start getting a little antsy.
"I'm excited, man, just trying to stay within the day, you know? Every single individual day of practice leads to a good game on Sunday, so not trying to get too excited, peak before then. Just trying to keep building as the week goes."
*Jones is also upbeat about the Giants as they prepare to play Dallas.
"I think we're in a good spot," Jones said. "I thought we improved a lot throughout camp and made a lot of progress to get to this point and I think we're ready to go. We'll work throughout this week in practice and make sure we tighten up every little thing in the game plan and make sure we put our best foot forward on Sunday night, but I think we had a good camp. I think we're ready to go."
Daboll was asked if he needs Jones to "pick up where he left off at the end of last season."
"I don't think you can pick up where you left off," Daboll said. "I think it's a new season. We're going to have to do the things we need to do leading up to this week. He's had a good training camp, and now we've got to turn the page and get here on Dallas, which we've been the last couple of days, and go out there and practice and make sure we correct the things that are going to happen and ultimately play well and make good decisions and move the ball down. That's his role. But he's had a good camp."
*The Giants put wide receiver Cole Beasley on the practice squad/injured list and signed veteran wideout Cam Sims to the practice squad.
"(Beasley) wasn't ready to go, so brought another receiver in," coach Brian Daboll said. "See what happens down the road. … Another set of legs. When Cole is ready to come back, we will see how it goes."
Sims, 6-5 and 214 pounds, spent his first five NFL seasons with Washington. He played in 55 regular-season games with 17 starts and caught 57 passes for 804 yards and three touchdowns.
"We had some guys in working out like we always do. He had a good workout," Daboll said. "He definitely has had some production in the league, I'd say both at receiver and as a gunner, too. He's a big body guy. I had him at Alabama back in '17 (when Daboll was the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator). Haven't spoken to him really until yesterday since he's left."
View photos of the New York Giants' 2023 roster as it currently stands.