It seems like the New York Giants have waited forever for wide receiver Ramses Barden to return from the ankle injury that sent him to Injured Reserve after Week 10 of last season, just when it looked like the 6-foot-6, 224-pounder out of Cal Poly was about to step up and grab a significant role in the Giants' offense.
Now that Barden, a third-round pick out of Cal Poly in 2009, is finally back to work how should the Giants use him? First, of course, the Giants have to remove him from the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) list, which he has been on since training camp began.
If Barden were to be activated for Sunday's game the Giants would have to make that decision by 4 p.m. ET Saturday, releasing a player from the 53-man roster at the same time. The Giants seem unlikely to activate Barden this week, though when asked on Friday coach Tom Coughlin would only say "you will have to wait and see."
The Giants have 21 days from when Barden first practiced on Monday to decide whether to activate him or place him on IR.
First and foremost, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride warned this week not to expect too much too soon from the 25-year-old Barden.
"He had one game in two years so to think all of a sudden now it's Jerry Rice is unfair to the kid. That's not fair, but that one game he got hurt, unfortunately, was a good game. He played well that game. Hopefully he'll come back, but who do you take out? I'm asking you guys. Who are you going to take out? Who are you going to sit down? It's like anything else, you have to earn the chance and you do that by what he's doing in practice," Gilbride said. "But the first week he's practicing you're not saying that he's going to be as far along as the guys who have been playing and doing it. He hasn't been there [since] whenever the Dallas game was last year. To ask him to be the same as everybody else, that's an unfair expectation. But he is working hard. He is a bright kid. I think he is going to come along and when a chance presents itself we'll tap into him and see what he does."
Without doubt, that is a fair point. Even if you want to quibble with it and say Barden played significant snaps in two games last season -- 15 snaps Week 9 against Seattle and 21 snaps Week 10 against Dallas before getting hurt. The point is the same. The guy has played very little football the past two seasons, and just got back to practice. He isn't going to step right in and become a star -- he wasn't that before he got injured, anyway.
There is also no doubt, however, that once Barden shakes off the rust and shows he is ready the Giants can find ways to utilize his size and strength.
There has been much discussion lately that Barden could help the Giants as a slot receiver. Barden recently told Mike Garafolo that slot is a position he enjoys more than he thought he would.
"I've played more slot than I have anywhere else. It's actually a surprise to me I'm comfortable there," the Giants' wide receiver said yesterday. "If you'd have asked me that coming out of college, I'd have been like, ‘Slot? What are you talking about?'
"But slot is fun. There's always a way to win. It's a mind game as much as it is anything."
Victor Cruz has become the Giants' slot receiver in three-wide sets, and there is no reason to think Barden will take snaps away from Cruz. When the Giants go four- or five-wide, though, perhaps Barden can be slotted in those packages.
Gilbride has not forgotten what he saw from Barden in that Dallas game, where he caught a career-best three balls for 34 yards.
"That's where he played a little bit, inside. It's not your prototypical slot, where you're looking for a quicker guy. I sound like a broken record, but to me it's immaterial to me how a guy gets open. Is it speed? Is it cutting? Is it his route sophistication and nuances? Is it size, strength, quickness? But [he's not like] most of the guys in there - the Wes Welkers, the Victor Cruzes, the Steve Smiths when we had him, those kind of guys," Gilbride said. "The last game he got injured he was in there and he caught the ball very well. He got open, more importantly. I knew he'd catch the ball, but he got open. He showed the courage and sophistication of route running. When he had his chance that day he played well."
Gilbride was also asked this week if Barden could play some tight end -- ostensibly replacing the unproductive Travis Beckum.
"You have to block. You have to block. Ask him that one. You know how you ask running backs if they want to block? Ask your wide outs do they want to block. To be a tight end you have to be a blocker first," Gilbride said. "Are you going to ask a guy who's been a wide receiver to be a tight end and take on Trent Cole? It's not fair. You're asking a guy to do something he can't do. But you're right. That's where he more of resembles a slighter build tight end kind of kid. Again, he's a bright guy who can play a lot of positions. That's the appeal. He can go in and do a lot of different things for you."
Gilbride is right that you probably don't want Barden lined up in a traditional tight end slot. He is 10-15 pounds lighter than Beckum, who is himself considered too small to be a traditional tight end. The Giants do, however, often use Beckum split wide or in a slot type alignment off the line of scrimmage. With him having caught just one pass all season you would have to think that the Giants might look to give Barden some of those opportunities.
No matter exactly how they utilize Barden, he will present another viable option for Eli Manning. And that has to help the Giants.