*Rookie TE Evan Engram made some big plays duri ng Green Zone drills at Training Camp: *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – He has yet to play in an NFL game, but Evan Engram just might be the player to correct one of the Giants' significant shortcomings in the 2016 season.
Engram, the Ole Miss tight end whom the Giants selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, demonstrated today in a lengthy and demanding practice that he can be a productive receiver in the green zone, that critical area inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
The 6-3, 240-pound Engram will team with wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is 6-5 and 232 pounds, to give Eli Manning the big and strong targets he has lacked, and that many other teams use to great effect close to the goal line.
Asked if he can be a "big threat in the red zone," Engram said, "Definitely. I work to be a big playmaker. I know there are a lot of weapons that can make big plays in the end zone, so I definitely work and want to be one to add to those guys."
Ben McAdoo knows how valuable the addition of Engram can be.
"It was the first day down in the green zone," McAdoo said, "and a guy like him, he'll have an opportunity to get his hands on some balls down there."
It's not as if the Giants were devoid of playmakers last season. They did have Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard. But the numbers were not what the coaches would have liked. The Giants scored touchdowns on 23 of 43 trips inside the 20. Their percentage of 53.5 played them 19th in the NFL. Conversely, the Giants' defense was No. 1 in the league in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just 39.5% of opponent possessions (17 of 43).
In 2016, the team's tight ends – Will Tye, Jerell Adams and the since-departed Larry Donnell – scored one touchdown apiece. Engram and former Minnesota Viking Rhett Ellison hope to help the wide receivers in changing that.
"It's a great receiving corps," Ellison said. "Awesome to be a part of this group. Or just on the offense with them. The tight end's game, you've got to know your role."
While Ellison has a reputation of being a premier blocker, Engram rose to stardom at Ole Miss because of his receiving skills. In four seasons, he caught 162 passes, averaged 14.3 yards-per-catch, and scored 15 touchdowns. As a senior, he had a career-high 65 receptions, eight of them for scores.
Engram has continued to impress in his first NFL camp.
"It seems like he's got more power than most DBs expect, because he gets his body into you and propels himself off of you and gets open," veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Or he can just beat you with speed. So, he's definitely a threat. He's definitely shown that, especially in one-on-one's, it seems like he's always getting open and catching the ball."
"I saw a young player who's learning how to play the game the way we want it played down in the green zone," McAdoo said of Engram after practice. "He's a target down there, we all see that, we all see the skillset. The challenge for a guy like him is, you move him around, you ask a lot of him, play a lot of different spots. And he can think too much; you think too much playing that positon. And I asked him to go out there today and play with speed and we'll detail it as we go and don't look back. And he made some productive plays down there today."
Engram knew exactly what McAdoo meant when he said too much thinking isn't always good on a football field.
"He was pretty much telling me to play fast," Engram said. "Once I'm more comfortable, learn and have everything down… that's what happens when you get more comfortable in the playbook. You play fast, so he's just pushing me to play faster and I had that in my mindset, for sure.
Has Engram been thinking excessively during practice?
"Sometimes," he said. "In this offense, there's a lot to learn. There are a lot of small details that I have to be on my toes for. Sometimes, when I'm thinking too much, I can't get into my game and get to what I do best because I'm pretty much thinking about what happened on a certain play or something. But, those things are dying down. Today was a really good day from a mental standpoint for me. Still some things to work on, but definitely getting more comfortable in the offense and knowing more of what I'm doing. That definitely allows me to play faster."
When Engram gets up to speed, the entire offense is going to benefit.