The New York Giants running back room looked dramatically different in 2018 than it did in 2017, with one exception – Wayne Gallman.
The Clemson product entered his second pro season as the lone holdover from a group that in 2017 featured Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen and Paul Perkins (who spent the 2018 season on Reserve/Non-Football Injury). Joining Gallman in 2018 were newcomers Jonathan Stewart, Eli Penny and rookie Saquon Barkley. Undrafted rookie free agent Robert Martin also spent most of the season on the practice squad.
Gallman did have one familiar face stick around – running backs coach Craig Johnson. Last season marked Johnson's fifth with the club. As Gallman's position coach for the last two NFL seasons, Johnson has witnessed his development firsthand.
"A year ago, he had good production," Johnson said in the fall. "He was able to as a young player be good in all three phases, but like a lot of players, you've got to take the next step. What he had done in the past, while a good blueprint, did not really apply to this year. I had to see him improve in those areas, and for the most part, he has done that."
"I think I made a lot of progress," Gallman added. "A lot of progress mentally just knowing the systems in football and the defenses. Just in my study habits and overall improvement as a player."
In 2018, however, Saquon Barkley, the second overall pick in last year's draft, joined the Giants and saw the majority of the action at running back. Barkley had 352 total touches for Big Blue, second in the NFL only to Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott. As a result, Gallman's on-field production was less than his rookie campaign, finishing with 176 rushing yards on 51 carries in 2018, compared to 476 rushing yards on 111 carries in 2017.
"That's just the role he has right now," Johnson said. "I've continued to encourage and push him to be ready and be a difference maker as soon as you get on the field. Don't press, don't reach, just go play and everything else will take care of itself."
Gallman's teammates praised his ability to step in at a moment's notice.
"He runs hard," Eli Manning said. "He gets in there, and he's really done a good job of getting positive runs. He lowers that shoulder, he gets us extra yardage. I think he's done a good job of picking up the offense. He's stepped in there, and we don't miss a beat once he's in the game. His role is a little different, but he's handled it well. He's prepared to go every week."
Gallman's patience paid off as the season was winding down. Twenty-two of his 51 carries came in the team's final three games of the season. A big milestone occurred in Week 17 against the Cowboys when Gallman scored on a two-yard run, the first rushing touchdown of his career (he previously recorded a receiving touchdown as a rookie at Tampa Bay in 2017).
Other than Gallman himself, no one seemed more excited about the achievement than Barkley.
"To find out that that was the first one of his career, it makes it even more special," Barkley said. "That guy, he works so hard. It's not fun being a backup. I don't think any backup would get up and tell you that. But he works so hard to stay with it. He helps me when I'm on the field, he's watching, he's locked in and when he's on the field, I'm locked in. When we go to the sideline, we talk to each other, what we saw, what would we do different."
As he enters his second off-season in preparation for his third NFL season, everything is on the table for Gallman as he looks to take his game to the next level in 2019.
"Improve on everything," Gallman said. "From workout habits to what I eat and drink. Just going to go back and do what I do, and get better at everything I can."