By Ernie Palladino
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Preseason openers are generally not wonderful, fun-filled affairs.
Throw the starters in for a quarter, maybe a quarter and a half, and then let the hopeful, the washed up, and soon-to-be-lopped knock themselves out.
For the most part, that will be true of the Giants’ opener Friday in Jacksonville. Eli Manning and the starters will go 18 snaps or so, and then folks like Rueben Randle will come in to get their chance.
Why do we mention Randle, the fast, second-round receiver from LSU? Because this is going to be his first great chance to show potential as a major contributor to the Giants’ Super Bowl title defense. Not show growth potential, as in, “the kid’s got talent and he’ll be a real game-breaker next year,” but live up to his reputation as NFL-ready right now.
It’s important that he shows this because Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride won’t have a major force in Hakeem Nicks until the Sept. 5 season-opener against Dallas, assuming all continues to go well with his rehab on the foot fracture he suffered in an organized team activity May 24.
Nicks, on the physically unable to perform list, just got back to running routes this week, so it remains to be seen whether that foot will swell up from the requisite stomps and cuts all wide receivers make.
So the door is wide open for Randle to put himself in the middle of a fight for the fourth spot with Ramses Barden behind Victor Cruz, Domenik Hixon, and Jerrel Jernigan. Only, Randle could be used more than the typical decoy if he shows well enough.
If nothing else, a good performance here might cement an image of Randle as a useful entity. We’ve seen that happen before — just two years ago, in fact, when Cruz burst on the scene with a standout performance against the Jets in the 2010 preseason opener.
Cruz caught three touchdown passes that night and drew raves not only from his teammates, but Jets coach Rex Ryan. As it was, it came down to a close call between Cruz and Derek Hagan for the final wide receiver spot, but Cruz wouldn’t have been destined for the practice squad if he hadn’t lit up the still-to-be-named MetLife Stadium that night.
Cruz, an undrafted rookie, was obviously in a much different situation than the second-round rookie. About the only thing that will keep the 6-foot-2, 208-pound speedster off the final roster would be a spate of group insanity in the coaches’ offices, or a catastrophic injury that lands him on injured reserve.
But when it comes to actual touches and field time, there is little difference between a high draft choice and an undrafted kid. The player can either do it, or he can’t.
This is Randle’s opportunity to show that he, indeed, can do it. It’s a first chance to show he’s absorbed a good number of the multitude of nuances in Gilbride’s complicated playbook, and is ready to put them to good use.
“I’m grasping it pretty well right now,” Randle said at the Giants’ University at Albany training camp this week. “Still a little gray areas that I could work on, but for the most part I’m picking up on it pretty well and I think Coach Gilbride is noticing that because I ask him a lot of questions in meetings.”
Coughlin said he’ll be looking for ball security. But Randle has had a good camp so far, as he’s found separation from defenders with his innate smoothness. He has given himself the opportunity for catches, and he has held onto the ball so far.
Now, it’s a matter of whether he can show the same stuff against someone other than his own teammates.
Does he look like he can be a force as a rookie?
It would be nice to find that out by around 11 o’clock Friday night.
What do you expect to see from Randle? Be heard in the comments below!