EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Making predictions based on a late-May practice is a risky proposition, but it's safe to say after Thursday's OTA that Daniel Jones and Darren Waller will be an important partnership for the Giants' passing attack in 2023.
Jones, the fifth-year quarterback, has quickly developed a connection with Waller, the tight end who once caught 107 passes in a season and was acquired in a March trade with the Las Vegas Raiders.
"Darren's been great," Jones said. "I think as soon as you walk on the field, you can see he's a big guy. He can run. He can run every route. Catches the ball really well, great body control. He's been really fun to work with. A really smart guy. He's picked up things really quickly, too."
The admiration is mutual.
"I've been very impressed with Daniel," Waller said. "Arm talent, intelligence, funny guy. He's got a lot of personality that you really get to see once you get to know him some more. It's been fun, man. Getting extra throwing sessions in, workout in the weight room. A lot of jokes. Just having lunch together. You can tell guys are really close around here, and he kind of leads that energy."
Saquon Barkley and Richie James led the Giants with 57 catches in 2022 and the team ranked 26th in the NFL in passing yardage with an average of 185.7 yards a game. Waller is a big target who can boost those numbers – emphasis on big.
"You hear about most guys, or you see them in the program, and they're listed at 6-6, and they're really like 6-4 or 6-5," Jones said. "He's a true 6-6. He'' a true 250, 260, and can fly, can run, can run all the routes. He's just an impressive athlete. He's just been locked in. You can tell it's important to him. He's put a lot of effort into learning the stuff and getting caught up. It's been fun working with him."
"He's a true pro," coach Brian Daboll said of Waller. "He's been really good for us in the meeting rooms. Gives good input. Good communicator. Has some leadership skills. He's been a good guy to work with."
Waller became one of the Giants' most important offensive players the minute he arrived and could become Jones' favorite and most frequent target this year. In 2020, his last full season, Waller was selected to the Pro Bowl and finished with 107 receptions for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns, all career highs. Injuries limited him to a total of 20 games the last two seasons, when he caught 83 passes, including just 28 last year.
"I view this season as an opportunity to get back to having fun and just being available for my teammates every and each week," Waller said. "That's something I haven't been able to do the last couple years, and I'm fully aware of that. I'm doing everything in my control to be able to be out there and be accountable, be reliable, by just being out there every day. I'm excited about that challenge. I've done it before, and I'm ready to do it again."
Waller early practice field exploits have also impressed the defensive players.
"He's a threat on the field," linebacker Bobby Okereke said. "He's a playmaker. He's big. He's strong, he's fast. He's a good player."
"(He is) another added piece that's explosive, that's able to make plays," safety Xavier McKinney said. "Obviously, when he's out there, you've got to be aware of where he's at, at all times. It's going to be good working as a team. Right now, I think that's the biggest thing for us is competing as a team, getting better. Knowing when we're out there competing against him, just knowing where he's at on the field, because he can make a lot of plays."
Jones expects Waller to make them frequently.
"He can do a lot," Jones said. "He's obviously a tough matchup for people, for defenses, with a guy who can run like that with that kind of size, and how you play him in man and how you account for him in zone coverages. He definitely gives something for a defense to worry about or to game plan for, and we can move him around and put him in different spots. Just a super versatile player."
And for the 2023 Giants, a very important one.
View photos from OTA practice No. 3 at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
*The Giants announced the dates and times of their three preseason games.
They will open with their only road preseason game on Friday, Aug. 11 vs. the Detroit Lions in Ford Field at 7 p.m.
The Giants will host the Carolina Panthers on Friday, Aug. 18, also at 7 p.m. They will conclude the preseason with their annual meeting with the Jets on Saturday, Aug. 26, at 6 p.m. The Giants will be the home team. The Jets are the only preseason opponent the Giants will face in the regular season.
*Daboll said cornerback Deonte Banks, the Giants' first-round draft choice, graduated this week from the University of Maryland.
"It's an awesome accomplishment for him," Daboll said.
*Daboll declined substantive comment regarding Barkley, who has not signed his tender offer and thus cannot participate in the offseason program.
"I would say with Saquon, that situation is going to be between Saquon and the organization, Daboll said. "I'm not going to get into detail of any of the discussions we've had."
He declined to answer questions about whether Barkley will attend the team's June minicamp or training camp.
Jones said he talks "pretty regularly" to Barkley.
"Obviously, Saquon is a close friend of mine, and he's been a very important part of what we've done here, and he's a tremendous part of this offense," Jones said. "I hope they can get something done. That's between them."
*The Giants will begin the final three weeks of their offseason program on Tuesday. They will have a mandatory minicamp June 13-15.
"We have been grinding away here into phase three of the program," Daboll said. "I think we made some strides physically with the strength and conditioning program, phase one and face two. Really, it's a learning camp, a teaching camp. That's how we approach it. No one is going to make the team off performances at this camp. There are certain rules and things that we with try to coach and make sure that our guys are on top of."