EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was 88 degrees here this afternoon, but to Golden Tate it created emotions oddly similar to those experienced at another time of year.
"It felt like Christmas to me," he said.
Tate was the proverbial child receiving a long-anticipated gift. After missing the first month of the Giants' season while serving an NFL suspension, Tate practiced with the team for the first time since the final week of August, on a day strangely hotter than it was then. He will make his season debut on Sunday, when the Giants host the Minnesota Vikings.
"It was good," Tate said. "I felt like I was moving around pretty well. Obviously, I just need to catch my wind a little bit. But I felt like I was pretty sharp for the most part. You had guys like (Sterling) Shep(ard) and Cody (Latimer) that helped me if anything popped up.
"I missed these guys, I missed the chatter, the music, the warmups, I missed everything about it. Just being around the guys, it was special. Something that I definitely value. Just excited to get back out and compete. It was great."
Tate spent his enforced absence at his home in San Diego working out with Melvin Gordon, the Los Angeles Chargers' running back who ended his holdout last week. Though they attempted to make their sessions as rigorous as possible, NFL football is a game that cannot be replicated away from a team's practice environment.
"It's hard to simulate football without playing football," Tate said. "So much goes into it. I was running a lot, and I felt like I was in shape. But until you have that first practice, that's when you learn - today was also an 88-degree day, so that could have something (to do with) it. The biggest thing is I think I'm strong enough where I won't go out and pull any muscles or tendons, so that's the most important thing. My wind will come over the next few days, I would expect. Coach (Pat Shurmur) is doing a great job of taking care of me."
Tate brings skill, speed, experience and 611 career receptions to an offense that has been on an upward curve since rookie Daniel Jones became the starting quarterback two weeks ago. He should step right in and join Shepard and tight end Evan Engram as Jones' favored targets.
"Obviously, he's a guy that's played a long time, he's caught a lot of balls," Jones said. "He's a really good player, he gives us another weapon, another tool on offense. Excited to have him back out there for sure.
"I worked with him a little bit (in the preseason). The week of the Patriots game especially, I worked with him a little bit. We all worked with everyone throughout camp and throughout the preseason, I feel comfortable with him, I think he feels comfortable with me, so I think we'll be on the same page."
The Giants opened their Week 5 practices on Wednesday at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Tate has played in 137 regular-season games with 100 starts, so he knows how to prepare during the week and can anticipate what will happen on Sunday, both physically and mentally.
"With this being my 10th year, I feel like I have a good beat on what to expect," he said. "I guess the biggest thing would be being used to the physicality of the game. That first time I get out there, getting off a release and actually getting jammed, or getting pads put on me and being knocked off my path. Or when I do make a catch, getting hit and trying to have that body control down to the ground. I would probably say that's the biggest thing. Maybe the speed. The speed is obviously going to be a little bit more than it is in practice, especially against this defense that flies around. I think I'll adjust pretty quickly."
That might take a little more time against the Vikings, who line up with one of the NFL's most formidable defenses. Minnesota is ninth in the league in passing yards allowed with 218.5 a game.
The good news is that this is a very familiar foe for Tate. He spent 4½ seasons with the Detroit Lions, one of the Vikings' NFC North foes. He has played 10 games against them and his 50 receptions vs. Minnesota is his second-highest total vs. any opponent (Green Bay, 52).
"I believe (that helps)," Tate said. "I'm very familiar with majority of those guys on that defense. I used to play them twice a year. I know them a lot, but with that being said, this is a very hardnosed, tough defense that we're playing."
The other part of that equation, of course, is that had these teams met a week ago, the Vikings would not have had to contend with Tate. Now they have to prepare for him with no game action to study to help them discern how the Giants might use him. Tate wants to contribute not only statistically, but to the chemistry on an ascending offense.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "(I am) just another option. It's no secret that yards after the catch is something that I specialize in. I feel like I can take that five-yard pass and turn it into an explosive play, which is what we might need a time or two this season. I don't mind going through the middle. I don't mind blocking. I think I can make big plays. Just another complete receiver on top of the guys that they have like Cody, Shep, Evan and Wayne (Gallman). We have a lot of guys that can make plays. Just another option that hopefully is going to make it easier for D.J. and harder for defenses to cover."
That itself is a pretty good start.
*Saquon Barkley officially did not practice today, but he was on the field for the first time since spraining his right ankle 10 days ago at Tampa Bay. After going through some rehab drills, he stood with his fellow running backs and was both cheerleader and observer. And afterward, Shurmur was asked if this week's game is too early for Barkley's return to the field.
"I don't know yet," Shurmur said. "We're just going to see where he's at. He's out there moving around. I've seen him moving around. I guess this is the first opportunity for you guys (reporters) to, so that's probably why it's a point of interest."
*Linebacker Alec Ogletree (hamstring) and guard Kevin Zeitler (shoulder) also did not practice.
Four players were limited: running back Wayne Gallman (neck), tackle Nate Solder (neck) and linebackers Lorenzo Carter (neck) and Tae Davis (concussion).
"We have a bunch of guys here that this time of year, it's just game soreness," Shurmur said. "I'm not really concerned about (them). … Just game soreness stuff. This time of year, it kind of creeps up. By the end of the week, most, if not all, of these guys will be ready to go."
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