After a rookie season in which did not catch a pass, Jerrel Jernigan knew he had to make a good impression early in training camp.
So far, so good.
The swift receiver was one of the most notable players in the Giants' first three practices at the University at Albany. He has made numerous receptions on a variety or routes and has put himself in contention to earn some serious playing time this season.
"Coming in, everybody knew this is going to be a competition for this third wideout spot," Jernigan said. "So I had to come in and make a big splash. So that's what I'm looking forward to."
Jernigan hardly made a ripple after the Giants selected him on the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. But like all NFL rookies last year, he had a sharp learning curve and a short time to master it because of the lockout. The first-year pros reported to camp without benefit of an offseason program. And with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham catching a combined 197 passes, Jernigan had few opportunities to prove himself. He played in eight regular season games, plus four in the playoffs, but his only statistics were kickoff returns.
"Last year when I came in, they kind of just threw us out there," Jernigan said. "This year, I understand the playbook more and I'm not thinking as much when I go out there. I'm just going out there and reacting to what I see in the defense. I can say I'm playing faster."
Jernigan was an every-day participant in the Giants' spring program, which has resulted in his impressive summer start.
" I think J.J.'s done well," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Yesterday, he had a couple deep balls. Showed some good speed, some good quickness we knew he had. Obviously, we've seen some flashes of brilliance and really good things. Now it's just continuing to learn. (He is) getting very familiar with the offense, consistency, and understanding all the ins and outs of it. That just comes with more repetition, more practice. These preseason games … will be very helpful."
"He's made some nice plays on the outside, and 'turn and run' with the ball," coach Tom Coughlin said. "We're looking forward to his continuing advancement, and also as a kick and punt returner."
Jernigan should have plenty of opportunities to prove he belongs on both offense and special teams. Manningham is no longer with the team and Nicks is still recovering from a broken foot, so Jernigan is getting numerous offensive reps in practice. And he is part of a crowded field vying to be the Giants' top punt and/or kickoff returner.
"I like doing those things," said Jernigan, who handled those duties at Troy University. "They're still evaluating back there, so we just got to see who coach likes."
If Jernigan continues playing as well as he has in these first three days, his work will continued to receiver favorable reviews – which should earn him more playing time.
"It's only been (three) days," he said. "We got a whole 'nother couple of weeks to go. So I just got to continue to work." [