*Rookie WR Travis Rudolph has turned heads this preseason: *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Because of two off-the-field incidents – one heartwarming, the other tragic - Travis Rudolph was the best-known of the Giants' rookie free agents when training camp opened. By the end of the weekend, he hopes people notice him simply because he's an NFL player.
The wide receiver from Florida State has a chance to make the initial 53-man roster, which will be announced on Saturday. Through three preseason games, Rudolph leads the Giants with 111 receiving yards – 36 more than anyone else – and his six catches tie him with first-round draft choice Evan Engram for the team lead. Rudolph's final chance to impress the coaches before cutdown day on Saturday will be the preseason finale in New England Thursday night.
Asked what he's looking forward to in the game, Rudolph said, "Just do what I got to do. Make plays."
Rudolph had a chance to do that with the first team in practice last week and in the 32-31 victory against the Jets on Saturday night. Four receivers were sidelined with injuries, so he lined up with Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis, Jr. when the first offense lined up with three wide receivers. Rudolph led the Giants with three catches for 81 yards, including a sensational leaping catch that he turned into a 57-yard gain.
Quiet and understated, he had a typical Rudolph reaction to his performance.
"I felt like I had a pretty good game, you know what I mean?" he said. "You always want to do more. Never settle for less."
Rudolph was a little more animated about practicing regularly with the starters and Eli Manning, which not all first-year free agents get to do. He stepped in because Odell Beckham, Jr., Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris and Tavarres King were all injured. Marshall and Harris returned to practice this week.
"It's been great," Rudolph said of working with Manning. "He communicates a lot and he gets you on the page he wants you on. Just don't miss a beat with him."
Rudolph was well-known when he arrived here, and not because he caught 153 passes and scored 18 touchdowns in three seasons at Florida State. Last Aug. 30 – a year ago tomorrow - several Florida State players visited Montford Middle School in Tallahassee. When they entered the crowded cafeteria at lunchtime, Rudolph saw a boy eating by himself at a large table. So he walked over and sat down with Bo Paske, an 11-year-old sixth grader with autism who was often alone at lunch. A photo of the two went viral, and Rudolph was lauded nationwide for his kindness.
But he endured an unspeakable tragedy on April 24, when Rudolph's father, Darryl, was killed in an accidental shooting. Darryl Rudolph was working in a back storage room in a West Palm Beach building when a coworker, in an adjacent room, accidentally discharged a rifle while moving it off a shelf. The bullet traveled through the wall and struck Rudolph in the neck. Just 17 days later, Rudolph signed with the Giants. He has done his best to focus on football ever since.
"It is an amazing ride, just to think about all that stuff that led up to everything," he said. "Just to be here now, it just shows how strong I am and I know I can get through anything with what I dealt with, with my father passing away right before the draft."
Thursday night, he will try to earn a spot on the roster with another standout preseason outing.
"It's just the standard I hold myself to," he said. "Coming into high school, I wanted to be one of the top guys. I made varsity my freshman year, had 18 touchdowns. Freshman year of college, I just pressed the same thing. I wanted to start. Then six games I ended up starting. It's just the same thing here. Just trying to make the team and contribute."
*Cornerback Eli Apple bruised his right ankle in practice on Aug. 15, causing him to miss the Giants' preseason game in Cleveland six days later. Against the Jets, he hurt his left ankle. Today, he said the ankles, "feel good. The one that's hurt right now is my left one, and it's coming along well. Just taking it day by day."
Apple believes the latest injury will not prevent him from playing in the regular-season opener on Sept. 10 in Dallas.
"I don't think this sets me back," he said. "If anything, I always try to look at things in a positive way. And just by watching more film and being a little bit more mental out there with the reps and stuff, I think I can grow from that."
Despite his sporadic playing opportunities, the Giants' 2016 first-round draft choice believes he has improved since camp opened.
"I think this preseason has been interesting with me, just trying to stay on top of my technique and be consistent out there," he said. "Once again, it is just all about eye control. Sometimes it is just about me being locked in on every play."
*Today's Ben McAdoo update on Beckham: "He's getting treatment, he's going through his workouts, doing everything he can to get ready to go."
*McAdoo continues to say the playtime distribution against the Patriots will be much like it was last year in the preseason finale. In 2016, the list of players who stayed on the sideline included Manning, Beckham, center Weston Richburg, cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and all four defensive line starters: ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, and tackles Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison. The four starting offensive linemen who did play were on the field for nine plays apiece.
"We want to give every player who's on the bubble an opportunity to show what they can do," McAdoo said.