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Giants to 'experiment' with Darren Waller's 'unique' skills


PHOENIX – Darren Waller is arguably the most intriguing and important acquisition the Giants have made this offseason.

Waller, who arrived via a trade with Las Vegas, is one of the NFL's most productive tight ends. In 2020, his last fully healthy season, he set a Raiders franchise record with 107 receptions. Waller produced consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with 1,145 in 2019 and 1,196 the following year, when he scored a career-high nine touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Last season, the Giants did not have anyone catch more than 57 passes, finish with more than 724 receiving yards, or score more than four touchdowns on receptions. Rookie Daniel Bellinger led their tight ends with 30 receptions. In addition, the Giants had the same number of rushing attempts and pass attempts (520) and were one of just seven teams with as many (or more) rushes than passes.

At his news conference Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting, Brian Daboll was asked if he would like to throw the ball more often than he did last season – and whether Waller's presence might help the Giants do that.

"I just think it depends on the team we have," Daboll said. "I think everything we try to do is geared toward our team and where our team's at. That's not our question to answer right now. Darren, I think, is a good football player. I'm happy that we traded for him. To get him in our system, to let him see how he processes our calls, to get him out on the field, to read his body language, he's been a very talented player in the league. I'm happy we have him. And I'm looking forward to working with him.

"He's a pretty unique player, I would say. We've just got to get him into the building and start working with him in terms of learning our stuff. But he's a talented player."

The Giants will place Waller is different positions in their formations to see where he can be most productive.

"They've lined him up in different spots," Daboll said. "He's worked under different head coaches. I think whatever we feel is best for him and our team, that's what we'll try to do. In the springtime, it's a time to kind of experiment on some things and see what works and see what doesn't and try to build off that.

"I think that's your job as a coaching staff to figure out who you have and move the pieces around and go out there and play with the guys that you have. You can have a lot of different personnel groups that you use throughout the year, some more tight end-based and some more receiver-based. There's times last year when we used three running backs at a time. So, that's what all this spring and training camp and all those things will be for. 'Let's put everybody out there. Let's start learning the system together as a group and figure out what we're doing.'"

Waller was not as productive the last two seasons because of hamstring, knee and back injuries that limited him to 20 games, including nine last season. The Giants will manage his workload to keep him on the field more frequently.

"We've had initial talks about it," Daboll said. "I've had initial discussions with our training staff about practices and OTAs and about some things. I think we take each player that we have on a case-by-case basis now. Once they get in there, phase one, they just start working out in meetings, I think that'll evolve over the next few weeks, not just with D, but with all the guys, too."

View photos of the newest members of the Giants touring the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

Daboll responded to queries on numerous Giants-related subjects:

*Jon Feliciano and Nick Gates were considered the leading contenders to play center, but both departed via free agency, the former to San Francisco and the latter to NFC East rival Washington. So, who will be the starter?

"We'll find out," Daboll said. "We've got 163 days until the first game. It's over 160, somewhere around there. We'll figure it out."

Do the Giants have that player on their current roster?

"We could," Daboll said. "We'll see."

The current contenders include Ben Bredeson, Shane Lemieux and Jack Anderson.

"They've all had good work," Daboll said. "I think (offensive line coach) Bobby (Johnson) has done a good job with them. That's why you see so many of our players cross train. In training camp, that'll happen again this year with new people coming around, particularly on the inside. I think our tackles (Evan Neal and Andrew Thomas), there's not much movement for those guys. But we've got a long time before we've got to play."

*There's also an opening at the cornerback position opposite Adoree' Jackson. Nick McCloud and second-year pro Cor'Dale Flott are among those who will vie for the job.

"Let's put them all out there and compete," Daboll said. "We don't have to make any decisions for a long time right now. Let's have good OTAs, good training camp. And we'll figure that answer out."

Injuries limited Flott to 11 games last season, including six starts. Daboll believes he can play outside or in the slot.

"He's got versatility," Daboll said. "He had some injuries last year, but I think he could play both sides. He's a good player to work with."

*The Giants' run defense finished 27th in the NFL last season, allowing 144.2 yards a game. But linebacker Bobby Okereke, a free agent acquisition from Indianapolis, should help lower that number. Okereke made 149 tackles (97 solo) last season for the Colts, including 17 (13 solo) against the Giants on New Year's Day.

"It was a good addition," Daboll said. "Again, good young man. I think he's played a lot of football. We've got to put him in our defense and see how he operates. But I was excited about him joining us. I look forward to watching him out there in OTAs."

*Safety Julian Love, the team's leading tackler and a defensive captain, recently signed with the Seattle Seahawks, leaving a significant void in the back of the Giants' defense.

"We have some good young players there, and we have a long time before we get going here with additions to our team," Daboll said "There's a lot of things that can happen. I'd say that (Jason) Pinnock did a really good job for us last year. (Dane) Belton did some good things. Open it up for competition, and I think (defensive backs coach) Jerome (Henderson) does a great job with all those defensive backs. Let those guys go out there and compete."

*On closing the gap with NFC champion Philadelphia, the first team to ever defeat the Giants three times in one season.

"I think every year you look at your division," Daboll said. "Every year I've been in the league, you obviously pay particular attention to division games. Again, things change. Thirty to 40 percent of 90-man rosters, usually there's going to be some change. You have to look at it from a big viewpoint. But then as many changes as we had, the other teams have had, too. So, the matchups and things like that are all going to be different. But you certainly look at it.

"Look, there's four new coordinators in our division. (Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike) McCarthy is calling plays. (Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Brian) Schottenheimer. They promoted (Eagles offensive coordinator) Brian Johnson in Philly. So, (Commanders assistant head coach and offensive coordinator) Eric. God dang, we've got Bieniemy now in our division. Another Kansas City disciple that you've got to deal with. There's so many unknowns. (Eagles defensive coordinator) Sean Desai, he's an excellent coach. How are they going to change? What personnel pieces? So, you look at the stuff you did last year with an eye towards the future with the additions of things those teams have made, too. Right now, you know who they are, but no one knows what they're going to do."


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