Giants new TE is competitive freak — who will need to be
It is not going to be easy for Evan Engram, as his college experience playing for the Rebels and Ole Miss in many ways does not translate to what he is about to embark on with the Giants, starting May 12 when he arrives for rookie camp.
“The offense is going to be vastly different than what he’s used to,’’ coach Ben McAdoo cautioned this week.
The offense run by Hugh Freeze at Mississippi, where Engram compiled school records for most receptions (162), receiving yards (2,320) and touchdowns (15) for a tight end, is akin to the manic “basketball on grass’’ system Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo laments is increasingly infiltrating the NFL. To describe Freeze’s offensive approach as “up-tempo’’ is to characterize delays in and out of Penn Station as “common’’ — the comparison does not do justice to the subject. Freeze’s no-huddle, spread system was perfect for Engram’s skill-set as a fleet tight end in a big receiver’s body.
The Rebels played so fast and so loose on offense that none other than Nick Saban, Alabama’s heralded coach, back in 2012 alluded to the high-wire act run by Freeze, and others, and exclaimed, “Is this what we want football to be?’’
Engram is going to run smack into a sharp learning curve when he gets a look at McAdoo’s version of the West Coast offense. Sure, the Giants at times operate out of a no-huddle, but only late in a game they are losing or when McAdoo wants to inject some life into a listless performance. A seemingly simple task of getting the play in a huddle setting will be new terrain for Engram.
“The good part about it is he is used to taking plays off of someone’s hands, so that helps with the signal part of things,’’ McAdoo said. “That’ll be easier for him. The no-huddle stuff will probably come easier than the huddle stuff, which is the way it goes for a lot of these guys. We’re going to start him out at tight end, we’re going to move him around, we’ll see what he can handle.’’
The Giants took Engram with the 23rd overall pick in the draft and clearly have immediate plans for him as a pass-catching option. If lining up and running against a linebacker or safety was all there was to it, Engram could make an early impact. There is more to it, though, and it sounds as if Engram — who returned to school for his senior year and was rewarded with high production and a first-round selection — will not be fazed by a new challenge.
“There’s no question that his competitive spirit is one of the highest I’ve ever coached,’’ Freeze said. “I think it’s almost been a chip on his shoulder all along. Just that he wants to prove that his competitive spirit will be the extra sauce he needs to not only be a skillful guy that he is, but to feel like he can win any one-on-one when given the opportunity.
“He wanted the ball, wanted to be the guy to help us make a play to win and compete. He showed it in practice every day. I don’t remember a single practice where this guy wasn’t a competitive player on the field. People followed it. He didn’t have to be all rah-rah and vocal. If you’re going to be in his group or in his huddle, his expectations were that you follow his lead and the way that he went to compete in every drill.’’
Freeze said his staff kept a “distraction list’’ filled with names of players who missed or were late to classes or workouts.
“I get that list every day,’’ Freeze said, adding he could not remember one time when Engram’s name ever appeared on the list.
McAdoo is eager to see how Engram’s size and speed blend into special teams — he did not spend much time on special teams at Ole Miss because “he was so valuable to us’’ on offense, Freeze said, adding he is sure his former tight end can do it and excel.
“He can run, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical and will tackle,’’ Freeze said. “I’m sure that they’ll use him on those.’’