One of Pope's protégés will have an opportunity to do just that. Kevin Boss, the Giants' starter since late in the 2007 season, today joined the Oakland Raiders via free agency. That leaves the Giants with tight ends who are either inexperienced and/or new to the team. The group includes third-year pros Bear Pascoe and Travis Beckum, NFL sophomore Jake Ballard, former Arizona Cardinal Ben Patrick and first-year tight end Christian Hopkins.
When they met this morning in the tight ends meeting room, Pope informed the players that Boss would not be returning. But he also delivered a message to those looking to take his place.
"He came in and said Kevin's going to the Raiders and that's just business," Ballard said. "We've got a lot of talent in this room and it's just us. So, let's get the job done."
"People are going to have to step up," Beckum said. "That happens. If a great player's on a team, there have been instances when that person got traded and that year, the team won a Stanley Cup or NBA Championship or something like that. People just have to step up. I think we can. I think coach feels comfortable where we are right now. I think at the same time while we're progressing, we're still learning, which is a good thing."
The remaining players are confident the Giants tight ends will be a force without Boss.
"Absolutely," Ballard said. "Bear and I are solid blockers. Travis is a great receiving tight end. He can get the job done blocking as well. Ben Patrick will play. He's a solid tight end. We'll wait and see. We feel like we have the talent in the room to get the job done. We knew that whether we were going to go forward with Kevin or without Kevin."
Boss was a productive tight end for the Giants. In addition to his run-blocking, in four years he caught 119 passes for 1,600 yards and his 18 touchdown receptions were a team high over that span. Last year, he had 35 catches for 531 yards and five scores.
"With Kevin gone, there is a big void that needs to be filled," Ballard said. "All those tight ends are trying their best to get better every day and we'll see where it goes from there."
"We'll miss a good tight end, no question about that," running back Brandon Jacobs said.
Now the Giants must replace him in both the run and pass games, perhaps with several players.
Tom Coughlin, who called Boss' departure "disappointing," said, "We have five guys in here that are now going to have to compete for a job."
""We've got guys here that have talent and we'll bring it out of them the best we can," Jacobs said. "Given the situation, a bunch of new guys will have to pick up the offense and learn blocking schemes and route patterns."
Coughlin largely avoided specifics when discussing how the tight end situation might sort itself out.
"(Pascoe) is bigger and he is stronger," Coughlin said. "Ballard is obviously here for that job and for one purpose (blocking). He is a little better with that and Beckum needs to continue to develop into a consistent player. He makes a great play and then a not so good play. The guys that are here are going to have to prove to us that we can continue and run the offense we want to run. If we have to make adjustments, we will do it."
The current corps of tight ends is both eclectic and promising. Pascoe, 6-5 and 251 pounds, was released in the final cutdown last year, signed to the practice squad the next day and to the active roster after the opening game. He became an invaluable member of the offense when fullback Madison Hedgecock went down with a hamstring injury. Pascoe stepped in and started 11 games at the position. His blocking helped Ahmad Bradshaw and Jacobs rush for a combined 2,058 yards.
Pascoe is taking snaps at both tight end and fullback.
"At first you're looking to fullback and (say), "Okay, what do I do there?'" he said. "But, I think I've kind of gotten to the point, especially with going through all last season and the start of training camp, where I'm able to look at a play and I can run both positions. I read it out. Tight end is this and fullback is this. Then on the next play it's tight end is this and fullback is this. Being more comfortable has allowed me to play more free and not think about things so much. Right now, it's just reacting and letting it roll."
Beckum, a third-round draft choice in 2009, had 21 catches in 31 games in his first two seasons. He has played well early in camp with several outstanding catches. Beckum arrived two years ago with a reputation as an outstanding receiver. He believes he must prove himself as a blocker to earn more playing time.
"I feel I can do it," Beckum said. "I feel like my knowledge has grown, so I actually know what I'm doing. Obviously, I'm a little lighter (than the others). With Coach Pope's technique and stuff, hopefully that will be in favor toward me. Like I said, I'm a lot smarter than I was my rookie year."
Ballard is the anti-Beckum, a promising blocker whose receiving capability is largely a mystery. He joined the Giants last year as a rookie free agent and spent most of the season on the practice squad. Ballard played in one game (Nov. 21 at Philadelphia) and was on the roster but inactive for the year's final three games.
"He is a blocker," Coughlin said. "He is doing everything now. He is flanked out and he has made some nice catches and shown some versatility. (He) would be good but at the point of attack, that is what he has to be able to do. He is 276 pounds, he has to."
Ballard caught 34 passes in 25 games at Ohio State. He strives to be a complete tight end and believes he has improved as a receiver.
"I ran a lot of routes this offseason, trying to work on my speed and my cuts," Ballard said. "I'm trying to be more of a two-way threat than just a blocking tight end, but I know that's where I'm going to go on the team as a blocker and I'm going to have to keep trying to get better at both aspects of the game."
Patrick, 6-3 and 258 pounds, has played in 42 regular season games with 20 starts. He has 45 career receptions for 446 yards and four touchdowns, though his most famous score was out-leaping Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote to haul in a one-yard score on a throw from Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII.
And then there's Hopkins, a 6-5, 255-pounder of the University of Toledo who played two seasons in the United Football League. He played for the New York Sentinels during the inaugural 2009 campaign and caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Last year, Hopkins suited up for the Omaha Nighthawks and had 12 receptions for 90 yards.
In addition to his production on the field, Boss' departure leaves a leadership cavity in the tight ends meeting room. Though not particularly vocal by nature, Boss was the natural leader of the group, because he was older and more experienced and put up bigger numbers than the rest of the group. Pope will remain in charge, of course, but Pascoe and Beckum, as the most experienced holdovers, are the likely candidates to become the leader among the players.
"When Kevin was here, he did that, he was that guy," Beckum said. "I think that people are going to have to step up, physically and vocally. That's part of the game. One guy goes down, somebody has to step up. Kevin wasn't much of a vocal leader. I think I would say I'm the same way. I think he just went out there and performed and guys followed from that. In some instances, I think that's the better way to do it. Hopefully, I can do that and carry along where he left off."
"I'll let Travis be the vocal one," Pascoe said. "I talk in the meeting rooms and stuff whenever coach is asking things. If he asks me anything, I'll give him the answer. As far as out on the field, I try to lead by example. I'm not a big talker. If you want to see something, I'll just show you. That's the way I try to lead."
It worked for Boss. Now his replacements will try to work like him, and give the Giants the production they need from the tight end position.
*Timex, the official training partner of the Giants, is providing 20 lucky fans and their guests a VIP experience hosted by Super Bowl XXV MVP Ottis Anderson at the Timex Performance Center on Friday, August 19. Fans can enter by visiting Giants.com/Timex through Friday, Aug. 12