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With Engram and Ellison sidelined, Backups ready to step-up

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As NFL teams prepared to play their Week 2 games in September, Scott Simonson and Kaden Smith were both unemployed. On Sunday, they will be the only tight ends in uniform for the Giants when they face the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field.

It will be Simonson's first game of the season and Smith's fourth. He has one catch for one yard.

Simonson and Smith will replace Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, who are sidelined with a foot injury and concussion, respectively. Engram leads the Giants with 44 receptions for 467 yards. Ellison has contributed 18 catches for 167 yards. They have scored a combined four touchdowns.

Lining up with substitutes has become the norm this season for the Giants' offense. The unit played three games without Saquon Barkley, four without Golden Tate and six without Sterling Shepard. Engram has missed two games, so the offensive coaches are accustomed to not having a full complement of players.

"We've been in positions where we've had to play, maybe not at the tight end position, but other spots where guys never played the spot before," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "But that goes back to when guys, as soon as they step foot in this building, you have to be ready to go at a moment's notice. You never know. You never know when all of a sudden you're going to be called upon."

Simonson and Smith – sounds like a law firm - didn't envision this scenario early in the season.

Simonson spent the entire 2018 season as the Giants' third tight end and caught nine passes for 86 yards, including his only career touchdown at Indianapolis on Dec. 23. He likely would have made the roster again this season had he not suffered a sprained ankle while catching a 27-yard touchdown pass in the preseason finale at New England on Aug. 29. Simonson was placed on injured reserve two days later and waived with an injury settlement on Sept. 10, which made him eligible to re-sign with the Giants after Week 10. The Giants brought him back two days after their most recent game, a loss to the Jets.

"We heard from a few other teams that were just keeping tabs on me," Simonson said. "But once I thought there might be a possibility I could come back here, I was hoping that would happen."

His knowledge of the Giants' offense enables him to contribute immediately.

"It's been pretty seamless," Simonson said. "For the most part, the offense is the same. There's a couple of new little wrinkles I'm picking up. Other than that, it's just getting back out there, getting in the flow of things, getting used to the movements and stuff like that. It's like riding a bike, I guess. It kind of comes back."

Simonson spent one season with Oakland and three with the Carolina Panthers when Shula was that team's offensive coordinator (Simonson was on injured reserve in 2017).

"He came back in really good shape, physical shape," tight ends coach Lunda Wells said. "Mentally, he's done a nice job getting caught up to speed in terms of what we're doing now. It really helps having a guy that has been here kind of knowing what we do and how we do things. It was good to have him come back."

Smith, San Francisco's third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, was released on Sept. 14, a day before the 49ers played in Cincinnati. The Giants were awarded him off waivers two days later. Smith was inactive twice, did not play in three games, and twice played but did not catch a pass. He picked up his first career reception against the Jets – for one yard.

Tomorrow, his workload will likely increase.

"I'm excited," Smith said. "Just kind of go out there and do whatever the coaches say, and just have some fun playing football in games once again. I'm looking forward to it."

In 25 games at Stanford University, Smith caught 70 passes for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns.

"Since he's been here, he's very conscientious about doing things right," Shula said. "I think he's flashed in practice and in the game in both the running game and the passing game. He's probably not as explosive as Evan is with his speed, but I think he has good football awareness in both the running game and the passing game. I think tight ends now are probably asked to do a little bit more in regard to formations, shifting, motions, lining up, things like that. Those are the big things that we want him to make sure he knows really well, so he doesn't have to think about those on Sunday. Now on Sundays, he's just concentrating on reacting and playing fast."

Engram and Ellison both joined the Giants in 2017 and have been on the field together for 33 games. Simonson and Smith met each other for the first time last week.

"We've gotten to know each other in the few days I've been here," Simonson said. "But he's a good dude. He's a good player, obviously. All the things I've heard from the other guys about him is that he has a high ceiling, and he's shown me that. He's a good football player."

"Scott's awesome," Smith said. "He's a lot of fun, a really cool tight end, really good, too. I'm excited to go out there with him and play some football."

The Giants need them both to play well in Chicago.

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