EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — After watching the opening weekend of the NFL season play out on television, Brandon Stokley seriously wondered whether his career was over after 12 seasons and two Super Bowl rings.
At 35, Stokley knew he was getting up in age as a receiver and that the new collective bargaining agreement had started a youth movement for many teams.
When Week 1 came to an end, Stokley realized it might be time to start that second career.
The New York Giants put an end to those doubts on Wednesday and gave Stokley a chance to play with an up-and-coming teenager he caught passes with at a summer camp back in Louisiana in the mid 1990s — Eli Manning.
“I have caught from Eli since he was in high school at the Manning passing camp,” Stokley said Thursday after finishing his first practice with his new team. “I have known Eli for a while. You could tell way back when he was going to be a special quarterback and I think he has proven that.”
Stokley is the type of receiver the Giants (0-1) have needed since losing Steve Smith to free agency last month. He is a possession specialist who plays the slot.
“I just help move the chains, get some first downs and help win some ballgames,” Stokley said. “That’s kinda what I am all about. If there is anything I can do to help this team out, that’s what I am here to do.”
The Giants’ lack of depth in the slot was evident in the 28-14 season-opening loss to the Redskins in Washington. They were a woeful 1 of 10 on third-down opportunities and the bad performance started on the opening drive, when second-year pro Victor Cruz dropped a wide-open pass on third down.
The depth at the receiver position also got a little murky when leading wideout Hakeem Nicks bruised his left knee. Nicks said Thursday that his leg is feeling better and he expects to take part in the team portion of practice on Friday.
However, the Giants weren’t aware of that on Tuesday when they telephoned Stokley and others, and invited them to New Jersey for a tryout.
“He worked out very well,” coach Tom Coughlin said of Stokley. “His past, his record, how he has played in the league. We think he can be an excellent addition to our slot performers. And we feel our young guys will benefit just watching him play.”
The Giants are Stokley’s fifth team.
“I just went out and did my best,” Stokley said. “I was just hoping I would get a chance. That’s all I was looking for: a chance. It’s tough when you play for so long to get it out of your system, so I am just glad to still be playing and looking forward to competing and getting them some wins.”
Coughlin hopes Stokley can be ready for Monday night’s game against the Rams. The advantage is he has 12 years experience with Baltimore, Indianapolis, Denver and Seattle. He started both of the Seahawks’ playoff games last season, in fact, and had 12 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
“It helps that I have been around a while,” Stokley said. “Every offense is different. Every playbook is different. There are always little subtleties that make things a lot different. It’s just getting comfortable and I am trying to learn it.”
Working in his favor, of course, is having a little chemistry with Manning and still having the desire to prove there is something left in the old gas tank.
“That’s why I feel blessed to have another chance,” Stokley said. “You can’t take it for granted. This is a great game and so I am going to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Stokley has a history with the Giants. In the Ravens’ Super Bowl blowout win over New York in 2001, Stokley caught the first touchdown of the game on a 38-yard go pattern that left cornerback Jason Sehorn in the dust.
“I was like in awe, a kid from Louisiana playing in the Super Bowl,” Stokley said. “I just felt blessed to be there and to win it was awesome. Never in my dreams would I have imagined winning and catching a touchdown. Definitely the top of my list.”
Adding to that list now would be giving Giants’ fans something to cheer about.
NOTES: Two-time Pro Bowl DE Justin Tuck practiced in pads on Thursday at almost 100 percent and he expects to play against the Rams if he does not suffer a setback. … When asked if he was going to fight Tuck for the starting job, backup DE Dave Tollefson, who started last week, said the Giants wouldn’t let him because Tuck makes more money. … TE Travis Beckum (hamstring), DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) and CB Prince Amukamara (foot) did not practice.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.