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Linemen battle it out in punt catch contest

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Among his many attributes as a football player, Damontre Moore says he has "hands as soft as a baby's bottom."


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They don't often come into play in his primary job as a defensive end, but they did today, when he was asked to catch a punt.

No, the Giants aren't contemplating a radical change in their lineup of return specialists. Tom Coughlin ended practice today with a team-building exercise the players have enjoyed in the past, a punt-catching contest pitting offensive linemen against their defensive counterparts.

The defense won, as Johnathan Hankins, Moore, Markus Kuhn and Robert Ayers all caught the high-flying balls shot from a JUGS machine. On offense, John Jerry was the only player to secure the ball, as Marshall Newhouse and Weston Richburg flubbed their chances. The defense clinched their victory on Ayers' catch, forcing each member of the offense to do 25 pushups – with the defensive players taunting them, of course.

"Some of them, their sternums held up well," Coughlin said. "Did you hear the sound of the hits? But they caught it, four straight defensive linemen caught the ball. We may have found a tight end or something."

Actually, the defense won in part because Hankins has some experience at that position.

"I used to play tight end back in the day in high school, my first year," he said. "I was a pretty good athlete. It's pretty easy when it comes."

On the other hand, "last year we tried to do it and I dropped one. I had to make sure I caught this one. I feel like I have the best hands on the team, but in that situation, it's kind of hard to catch a ball that high in the air. I don't do that every day, so to do it on the first try and catch it, that's pretty good."

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Like many linemen, Moore would relish the opportunity to touch the ball more often.  

"I have asked my coach at every level to put me out there," he said. "But even when I used to play receiver, it was like, 'No, just stick to the position.' ODB [Odell Beckham Jr.] ain't the only one that can do it. I picked up a couple things from him."

Offensive linemen have even fewer opportunities than their defensive counterparts to touch the ball. Jerry acquitted himself well when the ball fell to him.

"I'll tell you what, for those guys who return those things on game day, I honestly have a new appreciation for that," Jerry said. "There's a little pressure when we already had dropped one. You got to catch them to try and tie the score. Unfortunately, we lost. It's all good."

Asked when he was last asked to catch a ball on the field, Jerry said, "last year when we did this. I played defensive line in high school. I caught an interception on a screen and ran it for a touchdown. That was first and the only time."

Until his sophomore year of high school, Richburg played running back, tight end and quarterback, so he has experience handling the ball.

"I should have caught it," he said. "I've been training all my life to catch passes. Today, it didn't work out. You ask any big-time receiver, they'll tell you that some days aren't the good day, and today wasn't.

"That was the biggest crowd I've ever tried to catch a ball in front of, so I had butterflies, for sure. I think I won the crowd over, though. I had a good personality, which is what I'm proud of. I'll probably get fined in the (O-line meeting) room for dropping the ball, but at least it's on film, so we can re-watch it and kind of work on technique."

Both the winners and losers agreed the contest made a perfect ending to practice.

"Oh yeah, it definitely is," Moore said. "To have excitement after a long, physical, hot day just to relieve some stress by having a little friendly competition. Just going out there and doing things that we normally don't do. Big guys aren't really out there catching punts."

"I think it brings guys together," Richburg said. "It reminded me that we're playing a game. Football is a game, so you have to keep it fun a little bit, and that was a cool way to kind of tone it down and have a

Photos from Sunday's Giants Training Camp practice

little fun. I think it was cool."

"It's a great way to end practice," Jerry said. "We'll definitely be arguing about that one probably until the next time the O-line and D-line get a chance to go against each other."

*Right guard Geoff Schwartz missed the fun, because he sat out practice with soreness in his surgically-repaired ankle.

"(The) trainers just said they'd be better off holding him," Coughlin said. "Maybe he can go tomorrow."

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*The players wore shoulder pads today for the first time in camp.

"Some of the plays are not exactly what you would like, because they end up getting in some poor positions sometimes," Coughlin said. "But otherwise, I'm hoping that we came out of it good. They have to learn how to handle the pads and learn how to practice together with the pads on. It has to start somewhere."

*First-round draft choice Ereck Flowers was ordered by Eli Manning to sing in front of the team, a traditional rookie rite of passage.

"You know what, he did pretty good today," Coughlin said. "He got it over with, I think, at least one time. They may make him do it again."

"I was really looking forward to his singing, because I didn't think he would do it," said Richburg, who belted out a George Strait tune when he had to sing last year. "But he actually performed very well. I think it takes time just to get to know us and get to know guys and be able to open up like that. I think he slowly is. It's been fun to see him kind of grow and be more comfortable out here because he kind of opens up a little more."

*The Giants today signed Brad Bars, a rookie defensive end from Penn State, and wide receiver Derrick Johnson, a first-year pro from Maine.

Bars, 6-3 and 259 pounds, played in all 13 games for the Nittany Lions last season and was credited with 10 tackles, including two for losses. He also gained 32 yards on a fake punt vs. Illinois on Nov. 22. Bars missed the 2013 season after tearing his Achilles tendon in July. The Nashville native was a four-year starter at Montgomery Bell Academy.

Johnson, 5-11 and 188 pounds, was originally signed as a rookie free agent by the New England Patriots on May 19, 2015. He was waived on June 9, re-signed on July 18, and released again on Aug. 26. Johnson finished his Maine career with 116 catches for 1,165 yards and four touchdowns. As a senior, he led the Black Bears with 60 catches for 608 yards and two scores. He is a native of Hempstead, Long Island.

"Why did we want to bring in a receiver?" Coughlin said. "Because we're trying to see guys that are coming back and limiting their snaps, so we need some people to be able to put out there." 


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