Some things are easy to figure out. Eli Manning will be the starting quarterback like he’s been for more than a decade. Then there are things like the running back situation, which resembles a small army. Big Blue looks like they can count on Rashad Jennings. But don’t forget about Andre Williams. And Orleans Darkwa. And Shane Vareen. Or recent draftee Paul Perkins.
“When you look at the running back situation, unfortunately, Orleans has not been able to participate this spring, and of course Paul Perkins – being at UCLA – kind of hard to really see exactly where he’s at, you know being limited,” said Giants offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. “And so we have Andre and Rashad and, of course, Shane Vereen who have been able to do the things that we like them to do.”
Jennings started all 16 games last season and rushed for 863 yards. Vereen rushed for 260 yards but also caught 59 passes. Williams ran for 257 yards in 2015. “Rashad has picked up right where he left off – he’s had good reads, he’s been very decisive, he’s improved his pass protection, and really he’s improved his receiving ability,” Sullivan said. “I think Andre, a little bit tighter, is hitting the holes better and we want to see where he progresses once we get into training camp. Shane is a dynamic pass receiver, and we’ve done some things offensively to try and pinpoint him or target him, if you will, to get him the football.”
It seems like the Giants would be all set at running back, yet in the words of the late Billy Mays, “But wait, there’s more.”
“And then Bobby Rainey is a young man to keep an eye on,” Sullivan said of the new Giant who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens and most recently played with Tampa Bay. “He’s done a lot of good things both from a running standpoint – he has good vision, good acceleration – and he’s an excellent receiver, so it gives us some good problems to have in terms of saying who’s going to be the individual or individuals who are going to carry the football.”
The running backs are in the position of working as a team but still competing with each other for more reps. “We have fun with it,” said Vereen, a member of two AFC championship teams in New England, including the 2011 Patriots who lost Super Bowl XLVI to the Giants. “We try to learn and we try to take our reps very seriously. We don’t take them for granted because there are a lot of guys, so with a group like that, we get a lot of different styles, so we are learning from each other and we are trying to make the offense the best we can.”
While Manning is still effective, he is 35 years old and heading towards the later part of his career. Sullivan, head coach Ben McAdoo and running backs coach Craig Johnson will have to figure out how to utilize the running game not only to pick up yards, but to protect Manning.