By Ernie Palladino
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The Giants’ backfield will look a lot different during this season’s first Organized Team Activity session than it did last year.
Perhaps not as different as they’d have liked, given their interest in former Patriots banger LeGarrette Blount, who wound up with Philadelphia this week. But still, just the idea of an overhaul should energize anyone fatigued by the opposition’s consistent stoning of running backs in all sorts of situation.
Obviously, nothing will improve if the offensive line doesn’t get it together. Since they haven’t picked up any sure things in free agency, and sixth-round tackle Adam Bisnowaty from Pitt must be considered more project than producer this year, there’s a good chance the Giants’ overall line outlook will remain status quo.
But at least the second part of the running game rebuild has begun. With second-year Paul Perkins penciled in as the featured back, veteran Shane Vereen re-signed, and fourth-round running back Wayne Gallman from Clemson, the Giants have rejuvenated at least the possibility of a young, two-way attack.
Blount would have made a wonderful addition, particularly in the short-yardage and goal line situations he excelled in with New England. But Gallman could become a younger version of Blount and bump up Big Blue’s 2016 league-low total of six rushing touchdowns.
At 6-foot, 210 pounds, Gallman showed during last year’s run to a national title that he has enough bulk to go between the tackles, a factor aging and now-departed Rashad Jennings couldn’t provide consistently the past several years. Gallman had 87 fewer carries than in 2015 as Clemson emphasized the pass more. But that helped him advance in pass protection, the primary role that will get him on the field.
His inside game isn’t particularly pretty, as he’ll have to work on balance and form. But Gallman has the will and enthusiasm to bang it out between the tackles, which is exactly what coach Ben McAdoo needs to improve the league’s 29th-ranked ground game.
The only heavier running back on the roster is holdover Orleans Darkwa, who made his name in fourth-quarter clock-killing situations. Fourth-year free agent signing Shaun Draughn could also find himself in the mix for significant playing time.
The other big factor involves Vereen.
Neither Tom Coughlin nor McAdoo have used Vereen properly since the 28-year-old arrived from New England in 2015. He’s really an outside runner, and the Giants need to get him to the corner by screens and sweeps. But by all means, they must leave the rushing territory between the tackles to Perkins and Gallman.
Keep in mind that the Giants don’t need a world-class ground game. With ex-Jet Brandon Marshall supplementing Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard, and with a first-round, pass-catching tight end in Evan Engram, the receiver-rich team will always look to pass first.
The Giants simply need a representative running attack to keep defenses from storming Eli Manning and causing a repeat of last year’s check-down nature.
Downfield is the place to be. And it’s not ironic that the new-look backfield that takes the field in OTAs starting Monday will play big into the Giants’ ability to exploit that valuable piece of real estate.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino