EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Evan Engram will most likely not play a down in the preseason, which means he will have to wait until next month to demonstrate his improved blocking.
The Giants’ third-year tight end arrived here in 2017 with the reputation as a player who preferred and excelled at the pass-catching responsibilities of his position while being less enthused and capable about the blocking requirements. But he has worked hard to become a better blocker and expects to help create numerous openings for Saquon Barkley and the team’s other running backs this season.
“It’s crazy how much better I have gotten at the blocking game,” Engram said today. “Credit to (tight ends) coach (Lunda) Wells and my teammates. I was talking with one of my family members about how my blocking game has evolved playing with Rhett (Ellison). Watching him each and every day, and working alongside him, it’s added a lot to my plate in the blocking game. With the steps, it’s the small details. I’ve always kind of had the punch, I’ve always had the heart to get in there and fight, but it’s been a lot of details. I really feel like I’ve taken my game to another level in that aspect, just through the coaching and playing with the guys.”
Coach Pat Shurmur said blocking is not the only skill where Engram has shown growth.
“I think he improved his game in all areas,” Shurmur said. “That just comes with learning a new system and obviously getting comfortable with what we’re doing. … He probably goes in the Eli (Manning) category. He’s more comfortable with what we want to do. We’ve really defined how we want to use him as a coaching staff.”
Ellison joined the Giants as a free agent the same year Engram arrived. The book on Ellison when he showed up: a willing and punishing blocker who was not quite as polished catching the ball. In the two years they’ve played together, Engram has 109 receptions in 26 games, while Ellison has 49 catches in 30 games.
“I think our room prides ourselves as a bunch of guys that can do everything that they ask us,” Ellison said. “That’s what a tight end is supposed to do. A lot of times, you get categorized as a certain type of tight end. But in our room, we want to be the well-rounded tight ends. Evan embodies that, for sure.
“Evan is a really good blocker. He’s willing. You don’t see a lot of receiving tight ends that are willing to put their face in and do the dirty work. I think that’s what separates him from most receiving type tight ends. He’s willing to get in there and do the dirty work, and he’s competitive. He’s not just going to let someone push him around. He’s going to go after him.”
Asked for a specific example of how he has helped Engram improve his blocking, the ultra-modest Ellison said, “I think he’s been helping me more with running routes and stuff. I kind of use him as my coach. He just has a great attitude.”
But the public unveiling of Engram’s improved skills has been delayed. Shurmur seems intent on keeping both Engram and Barkley safely on the sideline until the Giants begin their regular season on Sept. 8 in Dallas. Shurmur said it is not because Engram missed five games last year with knee and hamstring injuries.
“It’s just my call,” Shurmur said. “There are things you’re looking for from your team (in the preseason), but we’re always keeping in mind what’s important for the individual as he gets himself ready to play within the team concept.”
Engram’s hard work at practice compensates for his lack of game action.
“It’s been a little different (than) the past two years,” Engram said. “Usually I get some time, but I’m trying to do my part preparing mentally (and) preparing physically each and every week like I am playing. I’m going through all of the motions and treating it as if I am playing. That’s probably the most important thing, is being mentally prepared. I’m trying to put myself in those situations.
“It’s just being smart. Obviously, I have to do my part as well. Taking care of my body and making sure I’m healthy and doing everything in my part. They are kind of easing me into things and allowing me to work up to the heavy workloads. … I come into work each and every day ready to prove myself. I’m trying to make this team like everybody else.”
Engram doesn’t have to worry about making the final roster. But his improved blocking will help him make a larger contribution to the offense this season.
*For the second day in a row, the Giants had a spirited, high-intensity practice in hot and humid conditions.
“Yesterday was a very physical, hot practice,” Shurmur said. “We took advantage of the heat today. We did some good situational work that was very physical in the heat. These two practices are very, very important. Just in the big picture, getting ultimately 53 guys ready to play day one. That won’t have as much of a bearing on what I do Thursday night (when the Giants will play a preseason game in Cincinnati), as it’s just an important thing to do this time of camp.
“The advantages are there is extra conditioning and the pressure that you put on your body dealing with the heat. We’re going to play some hot games early in the year. I know we’re inside against Dallas, but early in the year, we’re going to play in Tampa. God only knows what the weather is like around here. It could be 90 (degrees) one day, 40 the next. We could get rain, snow, sleet. I think it’s important, especially for the first five or six weeks, to have had some heat conditioning. That’s why this was a little blessing for us, this kind of extreme heat the last two days. The guys handled it pretty well.”
Engram grew up in Georgia and played college football at Ole Miss, so he is accustomed to practicing in the heat.
“It’s a tough mindset,” he said. “It can beat you before you even step outside, or you can embrace it and come out there and put the work in. I think it’s good we are getting outside. I think it’s good that it’s hot and humid. We’re getting out there early, putting the work in with the sun, and it’s going to build us for the season.”
*Has Shurmur decided whether Barkley will play in either of the final two preseason games?
“I’ll let it reveal itself,” he said. “You’re the third person this week that’s asked me that question, so it wouldn’t be fair to the first two.”
*Safety Michael Thomas was excused from practice because he was “involved with some league business,” Shurmur said.
*Linebacker Tae Davis was “a little under the weather,” according to Shurmur.
*Long snapper Zak DeOssie, who missed the game against Chicago with a sore toe, returned to practice.