EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Instead of accepting accolades, the best season of Evan Engram's career has left him seeking improvement.
"There were a lot of things I feel like could I have done better," Engram said Friday after the Giants' on-field organized team activities. "There were a lot of things did I well and there are things that I can build on. Definitely throwing last year away, there were a lot of things to learn from. But I'm looking forward to this next season and improving every day out here in OTAs."
Engram was one of the Giants' most prominent offensive weapons in 2020, his fourth NFL season. The team's 2017 first-round draft choice played all 16 games for the first time and started a career-high 14 games. He was second on the Giants with 63 receptions, one less than the career high he set as a rookie in 2017. Engram's catches gained 654 yards. He also had six rushing attempts for 26 yards. Engram scored one receiving and one rushing touchdown.
Engram caught at least one pass in all 16 games, increasing his streak to 45 consecutive games in which he played with at least one reception. His 63 catches were the sixth-highest single-season total by a tight end in Giants history and his 654 yards were the eighth highest.
So, what is he focused on as he prepares for pro season No. 5?
"Really, everything from ball security, from blocking techniques, from routes, getting in and out of breaks," he said. "Everything that goes in doing my job every single day I put an emphasis on to improve."
Second-year coach Joe Judge is impressed with Engram's commitment to becoming a better player in 2021.
"I'm telling you when you watch us practice and you watch No. 88 on the field, no one empties the tank like this guy," Judge said. "This guy goes hard every day. We have to tell him to tone it down more than pick up his pace based on what kind of phase, practice room, walk-through, jog through, whatever you have at the time of year. Evan is always a guy that makes you say, 'Hey Evan, tone it down a little bit.' He works on the details, takes coaching well, he's mentally tough and a physically tough dude and takes care of his body, ready to stay on the field.
"I'm very pleased with the way he works. He's a fun guy having in a program, he's a fun guy in the locker room, he's a leader on our team and he's a very productive player for us. I enjoy coaching him every single day."
View the best photos from Friday's OTA practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
In 2018-19, Engram missed 13 games with knee, foot and hamstring injuries. Consequently, he caught 45 and then 44 passes in those seasons. His statistical leap last year was due largely to a staying healthy and on the field.
"I give a lot of credit to a lot of things," Engram said of his 16-game availability. "Our training staff has been with me from day one through all the training, through all the injuries, and definitely Judge's approach to everyday work. Last year was probably the hardest I've ever worked on the field during the season and through training camp, and I think when you work hard every single day, you push your limit, you build like calluses on your body, and you're able to be more durable. You're able to withstand a lot more. Give credit to myself and discipline, taking care of myself but also trainers and the work that Judge implements for us every single day."
Engram's career totals include 216 receptions - 23rd in Giants history – for 2,420 yards and 13 touchdowns. If he significantly boosts those numbers this year, it might result, as a reporter noted on his Zoom call, in a "life-changing opportunity" because he could be a free agent after the season.
But Engram insists that provides him with no additional incentive.
"Honestly, my motivation is in the moment right now," he said. "All that stuff is in the future. I have no control over that. I have control of what I do today on the field, what I do in these meetings to end the day, and as long as I work hard every single day, improve and do my job for my team, all that stuff will take care of itself."
*Though Engram will be closely scrutinized, his spotlight will not shine nearly as brightly as that on Daniel Jones. Judge was asked for a pre-minicamp assessment of his third-year quarterback.
"I think his overall understanding and command is really becoming where we want it to be and you saw that last year as he grew within it," Judge said. "He didn't have the opportunity last year to have a spring, to have a true training camp to go out there. Going with the same terminology, alright, the same language this year, that slows it down a little bit for any player. In terms of being in the huddle, his command has really always been great. I think the biggest thing right now for any quarterback, including Daniel, is just getting on the same page with all the players and getting the timing down. This time of year, really, for those guys is crucial to be able to go out there and throw routes and get some timing."
*Tackle Nate Solder has returned to the field after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 health concerns. Solder is entering his 10th NFL season.
"He's been working hard for us," Judge said. "He took time to get his body back going, obviously with time away from the game, take time to re-acclimate and get back in playing shape. He's been doing a good job being in the building, working hard on the field. He's been great with the guys. He's obviously an older guy, brings a lot of experience and he's been a good voice in the room as the entire offensive line has had great communication with (line coach) Rob (Sale, and assistants), Ben (Wilkerson), Pat (Flaherty), Freddie (Kitchens) and all those guys been working together. I've been very pleased with how that entire unit of players and coaches have been working and the progress they're building towards right now."
The Giants' potential first-team line includes five players – Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, Will Hernandez, Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates – in which no one has more than three years of experience of 39 starts.
Solder is the wizened pro of the group and his expertise is aiding his younger teammates.
"He's a veteran, been in the league 10 years now, and he just brings that knowledge of being in the league for so long," Gates said. "I think it helps the group, especially as a young offensive line, I think it helps us tremendously."