On May 3, Darius Slayton had the yips. On June 6, the receiver was the first name that came to his coach’s mind when asked which rookie has stood out the most. First impressions aren’t all they are cracked up to be.
Slayton, a fifth-round draft pick out of Auburn, reported forrookie minicamp last month along with his draft classmates and dozens of free agents and tryout players. An average of more than 20 yards per catch in his three years of college and a 4.39 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine had people excited to see what he could do. While learning a new system and playing solely with players who knew as much – or as little – as he did during the rookie camp, Slayton had a rough startand let a few balls hit the ground.
“He was running good routes,” Pat Shurmur said at the time. “He had a few drops early but by the end of it he made a couple of nice contested catches. That is why you practice. There is a lot to get used to -- new routes, new plays, new places to line up. That is why you practice.”
“I certainly made some mistakes there, too,” added sixth overall pick Daniel Jones, who was on the throwing end of many of the passes to Slayton. “I have to protect him.”
To his credit, though, Slayton started to turn things around by the end of that first practice and hasn’t looked back. He shook off that day to become one of the most productive players on the field throughout two weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) and three days of minicamp practices, which concluded Thursday. The team returns next week for the final four of 10 total OTAs. After that, they won’t be on the field again until training camp in late July.
“The guy that’s made huge improvements in my eyes has been Slayton,” Shurmur said today. “He’s done a really good job. I think we were all here during rookie minicamp when he kind of had the yips, drops and whatnot. He’s really smoothed it out and he’s been making plays. He’s the first guy that comes to mind. This time of year (in non-contact practice), it’s more about throwing and catching and less about blocking and tackling.”
The Giants knew about Slayton’s speed coming out of college, but offensive coordinator Mike Shula was “anxious” to see how he handled the pass routes in the team’s offense. Slayton has checked those boxes this spring, producing highlights with nuanced catches as opposed to just blowing by defenders (which he has also done). If he had a choice, Slayton would take the nuance. He called the latter “selfish fun.”
“Any play that is well-executed is like poetry in motion,” Slayton said. “The quarterback drops a perfect ball, catch, it’s just a beautiful play.”
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If the 6-foot-1, 190-pound receiver stays on track, Shula thinks he will be a steal.
“He’s got good speed and he uses his hands you can see,” Shula said. “He’s got more confidence in his hands. He’s catching the ball more consistently. I think he’s a good route runner, that was one thing kind of coming out of the draft I was anxious to see how he did with maybe our routes, which were maybe a little bit different that the routes he ran at Auburn. He does a good job at the top end of those routes. I think we are going to continue finding out as much as we can and want to keep giving them more and more.”
As fellow rookies, Slayton and Jones spend plenty of time together in the classroom and away from the facility. On the field, they often share reps on the same team. Yesterday, the two hooked up for a handful of catches, including an over-the-shoulder grab on a perfect ball down the right sideline.
“Honestly, my job is pretty easy,” Slayton said. “He’s a really smart guy. He throws a great ball. It’s on time. Like I said, that ball was a beautiful throw. When you are working with a guy like that as a receiver it gives you a lot of confidence that all I have to worry about is getting open and he is going to put the ball where it’s needed.”
There is another rookie Slayton knows well, going back to their SEC days. DeAndre Baker, whom the Giants traded up to draft near the end of the first round, was an All-American at Georgia and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Slayton, like the Giants’ front office, thought Baker was the best corner in the draft. He can’t show it right now because of the non-contact nature of the offseason, but Baker is known for his physicality with his “sneaky strong” frame.
“Matter of fact, this past year we played each other and it was a back-shoulder ball and I tried to, I was basically going to just run into him and kind of bump him off,” Slayton recalled. “I ran into him and we just kind of stalemated, so he was a little bit stronger than I thought he was. He’s a good player.”
*Left tackle Nate Solder, who has yet to practice this spring as he rehabilitates an offseason ankle procedure, said the prospect of him returning for training camp is “very good” but would not commit. “Am I 100 percent sure? Are you 100 percent sureyou’ll be there? (Laughs),” Solder responded to a reporter’s question. “I mean, it’s hard to say. I take one day at a time. I am on a great path right now and am getting better every day.”Meanwhile, Solder has seen a lot of improvement from the offensive line. “Certainly our expectations are sky high,” he said.
*Jones has six OTAs and three days of minicamp under his belt. So when does a rookie quarterback start to feel comfortable? Shurmur, who has a history of developing players at the most important position, was asked the question today. “Fortunately for Daniel, he is extremely intelligent,” he responded. “His head is swimming much less than most rookies for a couple reasons. He’s very smart, he was coached extremely well in college, he’s been around it. He’s been coached by one of the best in college. He understands the process. Again, we call it a cat, they call it a dog, it doesn’t matter. He’s been around the process enough to know. (He’s) very perceptive, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. There’s a lot of things he’s doing out there for the first time. Every once and a while, if you are aggressive, a mistake will happen. He’ll come back in, fix it and the next time he runs that play, he will do it properly. It’s different for all players, when it starts to slow down and the game starts to make sense. Very certain that it’s going to make sense to him very quickly.”