Jerrel Jernigan broke enough school records that he could only surpass himself as a senior at Troy two years ago.
His 84 catches in the year leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft topped his previous benchmark set in 2008, while his 2009 total stood fourth in Trojans history. But that was there and then.
So Jernigan knew the NFL would be a wakeup call, especially coming from a spread offense at a non-powerhouse, but zero catches as a third-round pick felt like a bucket of ice water being dumped on him.
"I'm not used to that coming from Troy where we pretty much threw the ball around every single down," Jernigan said before Wednesday's minicamp practice. "Not having a catch in a year, I was pretty much upset about it, but I just took it as a learning curve. I learned a lot last season, and I came in this year ready to go."
With the departure of Mario Manningham, Jernigan's opportunity is coming with his first true offseason and he is capitalizing on the increased practice time while Hakeem Nicks works his way back. That goes for all receivers trying to make a leap up this season, and whichever letter of the alphabet you want to label it, they only have eyes on a number – the No. 3 wide receiver.
"There are no set spots where people have to go," Jernigan said of the competition behind Nicks and Victor Cruz. "So anybody in this offense can play X, we can play Z, we can play W. it just depends on who's up and who coach wants to give the work."
Jernigan was also asked point blank what his role will be in the coming season. All he knows is that when Cruz is being double-teamed inside and a safety is planted over the top on Nicks, good things will happen for all receivers on the field.
"That leaves me one-on-one, or whoever that third wide receiver is," Jernigan said. "We'll just step up and make big plays and keep the chains moving."
That will include one day getting his first career reception.
"I say it's the first catch that you have to get to get you in the groove," he said. "To say, 'OK, I'm ready.'"
However limited his receiving role was, Jernigan was still ready enough to help the Giants on special teams, returning eight kicks for an average of 23.3 yards (with a long of 31).
"At least I could get out there and contribute a little bit, help the team out a little bit," Jernigan said. "I just got to go out there and feel that live action out there so this year I'm looking for more."
He's looking to pencil himself into a larger role again in 2012.
"I go in with that mentality in kick return, punt return, whatever it is," said Jernigan, who had 67 kickoff returns for 1,580 yards (23.6 avg.) in college. "But kick return, I'm going in there thinking I'm the number one guy to kick return."