The offseason workout program is always important, but this year it was particularly critical for a Giants team with a lot of new and young players on the roster. For the past nine weeks, the pieces have started to fall into place. The team trained together in the classroom, weight room, and on the practice field for a series of minicamps and 10 organized team activities (OTAs), leading Pat Shurmur to believe the work this spring will translate to the fall.
“I do believe that when you train together, you learn something from the people that you are training with,” the head coach said. “I also know that if you are going to build chemistry, we have a lot of new and a lot of young, so the more time they can spend together, the better. Every team is different. There are some teams that have older players that have played together for a very long time and that may not be quite as important. I am glad, it shows that they care and it shows that they think what we are doing is important. I think the time they spend together is going to help in the long run.”
With that in mind, below are seven players who turned heads in spring football. Veterans like Saquon Barkley, Janoris Jenkins and Eli Manning have already done enough head-turning in their careers, so we’ll leave them off this list. This is more for players who set themselves up for a big training camp when rosters and depth charts are made.
WR DARIUS SLAYTON: Shurmur didn’t shy away from talking about the fifth-round draft pick’s “yips” at rookie minicamp, nor did he mind heaping praise on him publicly after the Auburn product “smoothed” things out. Slayton has sub-4.4 speed, but it won’t do any good if he can’t hold onto the ball. Save for that first day, Slayton rarely let a ball hit the ground. He also showcased his ability to run routes, which was a question for offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Slayton checked that box, too. “I think he is the most improved in my eyes,” Shurmur said.
CB DEANDRE BAKER: Many people, including the Giants’ top brass, thought Baker was the best cover corner in the draft. He had the hardware to back up the claim. He won the Jim Thorpe Award as college football’s top defensive back -- fellow rookie Julian Love was one of the three finalists – and was named first-team All-American. The Giants eventually traded up to draft Baker as their third and final choice of the first round. While he couldn’t showcase the physicality he is known for during non-contact spring ball, Baker did work on his off-coverage and mirroring techniques to improve his footwork. He quickly earned a spot in the rotation with the first team, where he hopes to remain when the season kicks off in September as he knows expectations are high.
“Of course – when you’re a first-rounder, they expect a lot of production out of you,” Baker said. “They expect the best out of everybody they draft, whether it’s first (round), third, seventh, we all got drafted.”
WR COREY COLEMAN: After coming over from New England in the middle of last season, Coleman made a major impact on the Giants as a kick returner, turning in a pair of 40-yarders and one over 50. The former 15th overall pick, however, is looking to do more as a receiver. Manning understood the spot Coleman was in last year and thinks spending a full offseason in the scheme will help him on game days.
“It was a tough situation for him last year coming in in the middle of the season just trying to learn this offense,” Manning said. “When you don’t have a whole lot of time to practice and you just have a game week. I thought last year we did a good job of sprinkling him in there and just kind of making sure he’s doing the things that he was comfortable doing and kind of expanding his role each and every week. I think he’s come in in the offseason, we worked out this offseason a few times, Knowing this is a great opportunity for him. He’s in a place where he had some success last year.
“He’s going to come in with a chance to make the team and be impactful for us. I think he’s determined to make this happen and make this work. He kind of knew his problems and he told me, ‘When I know what I’m doing I can be really good.’ It’s just getting to that point, getting to where he’s confident in exactly what his routes are, what his assignments are, getting lined up where he can play fast.”
WR BENNIE FOWLER: Fowler helped his cause as much as anybody this spring. If you’ve been following along on Giants.com, you know he made regular appearances in our practice reports and standout lists over the past month. The 6-foot-1, 212-pound receiver offers a big, strong target for his quarterbacks. They obliged by dialing up some big passes for him this spring.
TE C.J. CONRAD: Evan Engram looked like he had picked up where he left off last season, but then a hamstring injury popped up. He was sidelined for the rest of OTAs, but that didn’t mean his position group slowed down. Rhett Ellison and Scott Simonson were up to the task, but both have been with the team. Undrafted rookie C.J. Conrad, meanwhile, made a strong first impression as he enters the push for a roster spot this summer. Kentucky’s No. 2 all-time tight end in touchdown catches was sure-handed all spring and made the most of the the increased reps.
QB DANIEL JONES: The Duke product has not flinched since the Giants drafted him sixth overall and set in motion the plan for him to be Manning’s successor. He has handled all that comes with it, which is half the battle for a quarterback in New York. On the field, his talent is undeniable. He got stronger as things progressed and even showed his athleticism on a runner that had everyone talking.
“I think for everyone, training camp is the next opportunity to improve as a player,” Jones said. “I am looking forward to that and to getting back and taking those steps. I think everything will be ramped up a little bit in training camp. I think that’ll be the next step in the process and the next step to improve.”
OLB OSHANE XIMINES: File the X-Man – and defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, for that matter – under players we want to see with the pads on at training camp. Nevertheless, Ximines showed the first-step quickness the Giants talked about when they drafted him in the third round out of Old Dominion. He was a mainstay in the offensive backfield, which is what the Giants want to see from him and the rest of the front seven this season.
View the best images from all of 2019 rookie minicamp, OTAs, and minicamp