Jerrel Jernigan is entering his third season in the NFL. After two seasons, the 2011 third-round pick (83rd overall) has only three receptions for 22 yards, nine kickoff returns and two failed efforts to win the New York Giants' punt return job to show for his thus far unremarkable career.
Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride put a little heat on the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Jernigan recently, saying "I think it’s about time that he steps up and I think we feel he has enough ability and he’s been here now long enough."
Jernigan told reporters after Wednesday's OTA that he understands Gilbride's tone.
"I've been here three years. I know the offense and it's time for me to go out there and make some plays and contribute to my team. I understand where he's coming from," Jernigan said. "I agree with him. It's time for me to go out there and start making plays and start helping my team out besides just special teams."
When the Giants drafted Jernigan it was likely with the idea that it would be him, not then-undrafted free agent Victor Cruz, who would become a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses while working out of the slot. Obviously, things worked out differently. With Cruz and the Giants still unable to come to contract terms, Jernigan currently has an opportunity to get extra reps with quarterback Eli Manning.
"It’s a chance for him to shine and step forward and do the things that we believe he can do," Gilbride said. "It’s going to be a great opportunity for him."
The Giants have also tried to take advantage of Jernigan's elusiveness as a punt returner, but ball security has been an issue each of his first two seasons -- during which time he has never been used to return a regular-season punt. He said he is still "breaking old habits" in securing punts.
"Coach has been harping on me about the way I'm catching it. So he finally convinced me to change my techniques back there, so I've been changing my techniques and it's been coming along very good," Jernigan said. "I was catching it with my hands kind of like how I'm catching a pass. Now I'm letting it come to my body. It took me a while to get used to that, so now I'm comfortable doing it."
The Giants can, of course, use all the play-makers they can get on offense and on special teams. The Giants have subtracted wide receivers Mario Manningham, Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden the past two seasons, so if Jernigan can -- finally -- show he can be reliable the Giants will certainly find ways to take advantage of his skills.