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Seizing the Opportunity

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Tight end Jake Ballard did what any undrafted rookie should do last season. He put his head down and went to work.

Now with the position there for the taking, Ballard is seizing the opportunity in his second training camp while Saturday marked a major milestone in his career.

The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ballard received word from tight ends coach Mike Pope last Wednesday that he would be making his first start against Carolina.

"I got pretty excited then," Ballard said. "Nothing really changed for me. I still prepared like I normally would – know all the plays, know my responsibilities."

After spending most of 2010 on the practice squad, the Ohio State product sent his family to Charlotte for his debut. But Ballard's night didn't go off with a bang. Rather, it was more of a stumble.

"That first play I was pretty jacked up, and I actually slipped on the first play," Ballard said about the rain-soaked preseason game in Bank of America Stadium. "But after that, everything was OK."

Ballard regrouped.

A few plays later on the first offensive series for the Giants, he ran a short hook on 2nd and 11 and crossed off another task on his list, catching his first NFL pass for eight yards.

"It was raining so I had to make sure I caught it," Ballard said. "When Eli (Manning) threw it, I made sure I got it all and didn't drop it."

Ballard was in the middle of a successful training camp last year when a hamstring injury sidelined him. Consequently, he was waived but then re-signed to the practice squad before the start of the regular season. He was promoted to the active roster in late November and played in one game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"That whole period was about getting better, getting back in shape, strengthening my hammy," said Ballard, who caught 34 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns as a Buckeye. "Once I got activated, that was pretty cool, but I only played one game. I'm not upset with that – it was a start."

Ballard, a special teams contributor, has been given a more active role in the offense by the coaches this preseason. His number – No. 85 – is often called during practices, and just today, Ballard made two catches during team drills, including one in traffic over the middle.

Ballard was known primarily as a blocker in his college career, but with every snap on the first team, his comfort level rises.

"This year, I'm getting reps with the number one offense and coaches are starting to realize I can block pretty well," Ballard said. "It makes me feel more comfortable knowing they have confidence in me. On a personal side, I still have a lot to improve on."

Ballard, whose twin brother also played in college at Morehead State in Kentucky, comes from a football family. His father, Ben, coached high school football in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas for more than 30 years.

Spending his youth on the sidelines, Ballard is now under the tutelage of one of the most respected position coaches in all of football.

"Coach Pope is a pool of knowledge," Ballard said. "He knows all kinds of things. He knows defense like the back of his hand. He knows the tight end position better than anybody else. So I'm just trying to learn from him every meeting."

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