*Second-year running back Paul Perkins discusses his mindset going into his second season with the Giants: *
Paul Perkins, starting running back, New York Football Giants. It has a nice ring to it, but the second-year pro knows it doesn't mean too much in May.
Last week, his head coach announced over the radio airwaves that he is the team's starter. It wasn't exactly breaking news, given Perkins' play down the stretch last season and the February release of incumbent Rashad Jennings. However, it's another thing to have it out there publically.
"Right now, for me, it doesn't really mean too much," Perkins told Giants.com following a spring workout at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. "It's just kind of a title because we have so much of the offseason left, and obviously guys are going to be competing all the way through to the end of the season. So right now, I'll just take it for what it is, but I'm not losing sight of the competition."
Perkins, Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa will return to a position that includes a few new faces. The Giants signed veteran Shaun Draughn last month before drafting Clemson's Wayne Gallman in the fourth round last weekend.
"[Perkins is] going to be our starter out there on first and second down," Ben McAdoo told WFAN's Mike Francesa. "And we've added some competition in the room in a variety of ways with Shaun Draughn, Shane Vereen is coming back [from a season-ending injury], we drafted Wayne Gallman. So it's going to be interesting to see how the running back room shakes out."
Perkins, the Giants' 2016 fifth-round draft choice, said he's actually been an admirer of Gallman's since he went to see the first of back-to-back College Football Playoff National Championship Games between Clemson and Alabama. Each player left college as one of the most productive running backs in his respective program.
At UCLA, Perkins finished third on the all-time rushing yards list (3,491) and fifth on the all-time all-purpose yards list (4,236). For the Tigers, Gallman concluded his career third in Clemson history in rushing touchdowns (34) and fifth in rushing yards (3,429). He also broke the record for most 100-yard rushing games (17) en route to winning the national title this past season.
"I was actually kind of a fan of him," said Perkins, who added that former Clemson linebacker and teammate B.J. Goodson has also been singing his praises. "I went to the national championship when they played 'Bama [the first time]. That's where I first recognized him, where I saw him, and then this past year I watched him and was like, 'He's a really good player.' And I was a fan of his for a while, so I'm excited to see and get him up here."
Working up the depth chart is the name of the game in football, especially at the running back position.
Perkins began his college career on UCLA's scout team in 2012 before seeing action in 13 games and making four starts in 2013. He was named the Most Improved Player at the team banquet and went on to become the first Bruin to lead the Pac-12 in rushing in more than a decade the following year. But Perkins had "no idea" he would be the full-time starter until the 2014 season was underway.
"Much like last year where I was competing throughout the whole season, it was very similar to my offseason of last year," Perkins said. "I was competing with another guy, actually multiple guys, with Jordan James and Steve Manfro and Nate Starks. We were just competing throughout the whole offseason, which really groomed us to be a good running back corps. And then after one of the games, I became the starter."
And like his current situation, nothing changed in his mind.
"I just remember nothing really changed. Our coach really preached practice and play and prepare like a starter," Perkins said. "So that was one of the mantras I took going into the offseason and into the season. So once I got the title, it didn't really change too much."
His on-field role wasn't the only thing bringing him back to his college days this offseason. After the Giants' postseason loss in Green Bay, Perkins flew to Los Angeles to finish his college degree. So there he was, the next starting running back for the four-time Super Bowl champion Giants, taking notes in a classroom on the UCLA campus.
"No one really knew who I was, but it was just awesome going in there and really focusing and honing in on the details of class again like taking midterms and finals again," Perkins said. "It was kind of abnormal, but it was definitely hard going from practice and meetings all day to actually studying and writing papers."
This wasn't the first time Perkins went back to school as a professional athlete. Because of the school calendar, Perkins missed organized team activities (OTAs) after being drafted last spring. He returned for mandatory minicamp and then training camp, but 2017 is his first full offseason.
"I think last year I missed out on a lot of the continuity with the guys and really getting to mesh and bond with the guys," Perkins said. "But this offseason, I feel like, along with the social aspect, I feel like I'm getting a better grasp."
By the time he caught up as a rookie, Perkins took on a bigger workload as the games grew in significance.
In the final four games of the regular season, he rushed 62 times for 271 yards after having just 50 carries for 185 yards in the Giants' first 14 outings (he was inactive for the first two weeks of the season). Perkins notched his first career start in Week 17 on the road against a desperate Washington team holding onto its last playoff hope. With everything sealed up for the Giants, Perkins carried the ball 21 times for 102 yards in a 19-10 victory.
"It was awesome," said Perkins, who also started against Green Bay in the Giants' first postseason appearance since Super Bowl XLVI. "I had a great talk with Rashad before the game, just getting me mentally prepared for what's going to happen. Then just going out there and just having fun. I took the mantra that my college coach taught me: prepare and practice and play like a starter. So I just went out there with that mindset and let it rip."
While the Giants have added six-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall and first-round pick Evan Engram to Eli Manning's arsenal in the passing attack, McAdoo and Perkins know a consistent ground presence can unlock an offense that never took off in 2016.
"We need to be able to run the ball on our own terms, not just when the desirable look is there," McAdoo said. "We need to be able to pound the ball forward and win the down in that way there. And we feel Paul Perkins is going to grow. He didn't even have an offseason last year and played a lot on special teams for us. We plan on him contributing as a special teams player this year as well, but running the ball on our own terms will be big for us."