EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For the most part, it had been a quiet training camp for veteran running back Shane Vereen. That was until Sunday served as a reminder of the unique skill set he adds to the New York Giants offense.
The slow start to the summer was in part because of a lower body injury and the Giants' plan. They intended on bringing him along slowly all along following a season where he twice tore his triceps and missed most of the year.
Now that he's healthy, this seems to be the portion of the summer where the Giants are ready to slowly integrate Vereen back into being a major piece of the offense -- like his was prior to the injury. When they took the field for the start of live drills at Sunday's practice, Vereen took the initial snap with the first-team offense. He caught a pass out of the backfield. It was a sign of things to come.
Starter Paul Perkins (yes, he's still the unequivocal starter) came on for the next play, but it was the beginning of a busy practice for Vereen. He caught a total of four passes during live drills, leading all receivers.
In case Vereen's relative silence so far this summer made him somewhat of an afterthought, it might be time to rethink that assessment. He was the Giants' passing-down back playing almost 50 percent of the offensive snaps in the first two weeks last season before injuries started to take its toll on the backfield. The seventh-year running back remains a big part of the Giants' plans this season. That's primarily because his pass-catching skills (especially his route-running) are unparalleled among this current group of running backs. Perkins has proven to only be an average receiver this summer.
"[Vereen] was a guy we started slow with," coach Ben McAdoo said. "We built him up, he looks like he feels pretty good out there right now, and we'll continue to build him up, increase his workload."
That means more and more passes in his direction. More and more catches. Vereen looked fresh, shifty and elusive on Sunday.
In the Giants' pass-happy offense, he's going to play a significant role. It's necessary. Even more so than the past, practices this summer have turned into checkdown central. McAdoo appears to be making his quick-pass offense even quicker. There are more wide receiver and tight end screens and passes to the running backs than previous years' training camps.
It's no accident that in the preseason opener, McAdoo emphasize screens and moving the pocket for his quarterback. The Giants are preparing to work around an offensive line that struggled with pass protection last season and returns the same five starters. Throwing the football to the running backs (and Vereen in particular) is one workaround.
Vereen played eight snaps to Perkins' 10 on Friday night. That seems like a reasonable split going forward, with one other option sprinkled into the equation. Still, Perkins will be the primary ball-carrier, even with his uninspiring camp and McAdoo being unhappy with his inability to beat the safety on his first run against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I think at the running back position Paul Perkins has an opportunity to go out and establish himself," McAdoo said. "I look forward to seeing him getting more carries as we go through the preseason and into the regular season."
The Giants are committed to Perkins as their starter. That will happen. But if Sunday proved anything, Vereen will still be getting most of the passing downs and the receptions out of the backfield.
Other practice notables:
McAdoo noted that quarterback Eli Manning has been consistent and productive throughout training camp, but was a "little bit rusty" on Sunday. Maybe that had to do with interception he threw to cornerback Donte Deayon during a two-minute drill late in practice. Otherwise Manning seemed his usual self. This summer that has included quick decision-making and, as mentioned above, plenty of checkdowns to his running backs. And very few interceptions.
Manning's best throw of the afternoon was earlier in that same drive to Odell Beckham Jr. deep down the right sideline. Beckham made a tremendous one-handed grab for a touchdown, but it didn't count as the play was ruled a sack. Which brings us to …
The touchdown was negated by a sack from defensive end Olivier Vernon. He beat left tackle Ereck Flowers clean off the edge on the play. That happened several times throughout practice. Flowers had a rough afternoon, and looked an awful lot like the inconsistent player who struggled badly last season. It has been that kind of summer for the young left tackle. There have been good and bad days. He was OK in the preseason opener against the Steelers -- nothing great, nothing terrible -- but followed it up with a bad practice. Left tackle remains a concern.
The kicking competition swung even further in favor of Aldrick Rosas. It wasn't anything Rosas did on Sunday though. It was his competition, Mike Nugent, missing a pair of field goals from under 30 yards in the only live kicking drill of practice. Nugent made two of his four field goals, including one with a bad snap. Rosas didn't attempt any kicks in that drill. He did hit both his field goals, including a 52-yarder, against the Steelers.
More good reps for fullback Shane Smith at Sunday's practice. He's keeps making a case for a roster spot. Smith delivers some bone-crunching hits and seems to square up his assignment consistently.
Tight end Matt LaCosse made another tough leaping catch over a defender. This is becoming a regularity at training camp practices. Now he needs to carry it over into the game.
Defensive lineman Jordan Williams also continues to flash. His first step is impressive.