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Giants turn to Rhett Ellison for increased role

Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants take on the Saints, Sunday at home

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – At his news conference yesterday, coach Pat Shurmur invoked the name of one of the best tight ends in Giants history when discussing Rhett Ellison.

"I made the analogy, and this probably isn't fair because I don't know Mark Bavaro that well," Shurmur said, "but I sensed the same kind of aura when I met him the other night – just a tough guy that's going to do what he's asked and let the chips fall. That's what Rhett is."

Ellison's reaction?

"I think it was mostly a mentality thing," he said to laughter in a locker room interview today.

Ellison is well aware of Bavaro, who played for the Giants from 1985-90 and was inducted into the franchise's Ring of Honor in 2011. The most famous play of Bavaro's career occurred in a Monday night game in San Francisco in 1986, when he caught a 10-yard Phil Simms pass and shed or carried six 49ers defenders on his way to a 31-yard gain.

"One of which was my dad," Ellison said of his father, Riki, an NFL linebacker from 1983-92. "So, I'm sure my dad is not happy about this comparison."

Rhett isn't concerned about his likeness to Giants tight ends, past or present. That will come into play on Sunday, when the seven-year pro will take on a heavier workload in the Giants' home game against the New Orleans Saints.

Evan Engram, the Giants' leading receiver last season, is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury suffered last week in Houston. The other three tight ends - Ellison, Scott Simonson and Garrett Dickerson, who was added to the roster on Tuesday – will all move up the line.

The common perception is that in the tight end hierarchy, Engram is the superior receiver and Ellison the better blocker. That is supported by the statistics; as a rookie last year, Engram caught a team-high 64 passes, while Ellison had 24 receptions. But Ellison rejects the notion he must emulate an absent Engram.

"There's things that I can't do that Evan does," Ellison said. "For me, it's just trying to execute the plays and find my role in the play that's called, and try to make a play.

"(The tight end position is) kind of a jack-of-all-trades anyway, so you have to know the plays. Evan is going to run them a little differently than I do, obviously, but you got to know your role in that play."

Engram was asked if he will try to transfer some of his speed to Ellison so his mentor can run some of his familiar pass routes up the seam.

"A lot of people sleep on Rhett," Engram said. "He's definitely a teach-tape in the blocking game. The dude is a really good athlete and makes plays in the pass game, too. So no need to give him any speed. He was moving on some plays on Sunday, and I expect him to have a big game this weekend, and through the pass game. I know he's going to take care of his blocks in the run game."

While Engram credits Ellison for helping him become a better blocker, the veteran said the 2017 first-round draft choice for helping him improve as a receiver.

"Almost anytime we talk about coverage, especially now, I'm like, 'Hey, what would you do against this guy?' or 'How would you run that route?'" Ellison said. "Because he sees that, as opposed to my career, I've mostly been focused on the blocks. So he can show me or teach me certain things when you're outside of the blocks and what to look for. He's been very helpful with that stuff."

In the season's first three games, Engram caught 10 passes for 104 yards, while Ellison six receptions for 60 yards. Each player has one touchdown.

The coaches admire Ellison's work ethic, blocking skills, and sure hands.

"I'm fond of Rhett, who he is as a player and as a person," said Shurmur, who coached Ellison with the Vikings two years ago. "He epitomizes a player that you want on your team. He's very good at what he does, he can line up anywhere, he finds a way to make plays. Some guys just have a knack for that. He finds a way to make plays. Very trustworthy and very tough, and he's wired like a football player, and that is what you're looking for.

"This is my first year with him, but he's been very steady, he's a true veteran, he understands the game, he's smart, he's a fast thinker, he's versatile," Shula said. "So then when Evan went down, obviously his reps picked up and we really didn't miss a beat. Eli (Manning) as you saw, has got complete confidence in him. So we need to continue the way we finished last week with him, and some of the other guys that came in and played well."

Wide receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard will likely be Manning's primary targets against the Saints. Though he is expected to move up in the progression, Ellison is not putting additional pressure on his shoulders because the opposing team will be more focused on him.

"I'm just treating it like any other game," he said. "Just prepare the same way, and just mentally and physically get as healthy as possible for Sunday. You don't really treat it any different than any other game. You always are preparing for that just in case. It's a physical sport, so that's always on the table."

Hey, it was for Mark Bavaro, too.