Giants rookie Randle waits his turn
Former LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle is getting comfortable with the Giants
The Giants think he's "NFL-ready," although he slipped considerably in the draft
Due of injuries and defections, Randle could end up as New York's No. 3 receiver
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With the New York Giants working through their last day of veterans minicamp, rookie Rueben Randle stands watching the action, helmetless and arms clasped behind his torso, eagerly shifting back and forth in a small huddle with the other reserve receivers. It's been just a short stay in the NFL for the Bastrop, La. native so far, but already he's experienced prolonged delays.
Back in late-April at the NFL Draft, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound LSU product -- one of only three Tigers invited to attend the event and a first-rounder in countless mock drafts -- saw his name surprisingly trickle down many teams' boards. With each unfamiliar name called, the internal pressure and discomfort built. Finally, with the last pick of the second round, the defending champions brought relief to Randle and his family, making him the ninth receiver selected in 2012.
Though one might expect some bitterness or chip on the shoulder-type of attitude due to such an unexpected wait from realizing a boyhood dream, Randle thinks of it differently.
"It was a humbling experience," Randle said on Thursday at the Giants practice facility in the Meadowlands. "It wasn't really anything I could complain about, coming into a blessing and a home like this. Once I sat back and looked at it that way, it really wasn't a bad situation at all."
Many pundits theorized the source of the holdup was Randle's lack of eye-popping numbers while playing in Baton Rouge, even if his impressive production -- nearly 17 yards per reception during his college career to go along with 917 receiving yards in his final season at LSU -- occurred in Les Miles' run-centric offense. Others mentioned that his NFL Combine results were just outside of the top 10 at the position.
Regardless, calling Randle "NFL-ready" because of his obvious natural abilities, the Giants -- seemingly always in need of the next receiving threat in a depleted unit -- were happy to welcome him, openly gushing about him falling into their lap so late in the draft. Though things are still coming along for the 21-year-old on the field, from what he has shown so far in the few days of practice he has taken part in through two minicamps, the line of those ahead of him may be promptly shrinking.
In March, just off a memorable Super Bowl XLVI grab that essentially sealed New York's victory, Mario Manningham signed a two-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers during the offseason. Then, at an OTA in May, Hakeem Nicks broke a bone in his foot, putting him out an estimated three months. Add the loss of tight end Jake Ballard and veteran Dominik Hixon also trying to return from injury, and suddenly things are appearing a little grim at what had started to look like a strong point for the champions just months ago.
Although Nicks plans to be back in action in time for the latter part of training camp, the Giants are in need of dependable targets for Eli Manning. The Giants quarterback acknowledges that there is much work ahead but that Randle may end up being precisely the guy to shore up the hole at this critical skill position.
"I think he has a good feel for things," Manning said of Randle. "He's starting to understand some of the concepts and just the ins and outs of what his assignments are. There's always a learning period with those guys, but you see some speed, some size coming in and out of breaks and just a pretty good feel and understanding of how to get open. We've just got to see if he can step in as that outside receiver on third down or in three-wide."
In just the brief window he has been able to evaluate, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has seen the same things in the young draft pick as his quarterback.
"I think there's enough ability there for sure," said Gilbride. "He's a build-up speed guy who I think has enough to get by people to give us a deep threat that we need. There's a lot of polish that has to take place in terms of sharpening some of the other things he's doing, but I think you see enough to be encouraged."
Randle said he is still getting used to the adjustment away from family and friends in "The Big Apple," but that his growing relationships with several players on the team, primarily the receiving corps, is making life in the NFL a mostly smooth transition.
"I think football is football," he said. "Just getting adjusted to the different reads and things like that are what I've been trying to focus on these last couple days. It's also different because the offense is more complex than we ran at LSU."
Fourth-year receiver Ramses Barden said that guiding new teammates on and off the field is important because it sets the tone for the goals and values of the organization, as well as benefits the team as a whole. He is proud of how tight knit New York's wide receivers have become.
"I think we have one of the better chemistries on the team," said Barden, also vying for a starting role on the team. "Obviously I'm not in other groups, but I know we have a lot of fun in our room and with each other hanging out here and away from the facility. We even still talk to Mario. Just because he's gone doesn't mean we won't be tight with him. He was a good friend of ours and he's got new opportunities, but we're still going to miss him all the same because of the camaraderie and friendship built in this unit."
At this point, with competition for the third receiver position still wide open, Randle displays his cool demeanor when his No. 82 jersey (yes, Manningham's old number) finally hits the field during the minicamp. After a handful of walkthrough formations with the second unit, Randle steps up to field punts toward the end of practice.
His talents are immediately apparent, if not obvious. With nearly a 50-foot kick off the foot of punter Steve Weatherford briskly falling back to the turf, Randle settles in, helmet unstrapped and gloves unfastened, and casually cushions the ball into his awaiting hands, never even expending the energy to tuck it to his chest to gain possession. The former all-state high school quarterback then finesses a crisp, 40-yard spiral back to an assistant and strolls back to his previous position.
"I'm really trying to work hard each and everyday to get the system down and just let them know they can rely on me," he said in the locker room after practice. "You might not get the ball, but just go out there and do what you're supposed to do. They see that you're trying to get open and things like that, and when the ball comes your way, you make the plays, and they build more confidence in you and trust you."
While coaches continue their player analysis and begin to make key roster decisions, Randle is content biding his time, for now, while gaining a better understanding from each pro experience he has had -- including the draft -- and hoping to cut down on future delays while also proving to the Giants, he was worth the wait.