With Mario Manningham in San Francisco and Hakeem Nicks in shorts and sneakers nursing a broken foot much of the offseason was spent speculating about which of the plethora of young wide receivers on the New York Giants roster would step forward.
Unquestionably, the first one to do so has been second-year man Jerrel Jernigan. After a somewhat disappointing rookie season during which he returned some kickoffs but never caught a pass, Jernigan has been opening eyes thus far in training camp.
Throughout the first four days of camp Jernigan has clearly separated himself from his competition. It is far too early to say that the 5-foot-9, 185-pound 2011 third-round pick from Troy has won the third wide receiver job.
Jernigan admitted recently that his hope was to start quickly in training camp. "Coming in, everybody knew this is going to be a competition for this third wideout spot. So I had to come in and make a big splash," he said.
Throughout four days of practice Jernigan had made noticeable plays each day on a variety of routes. Deep balls, short balls and some catches in traffic. His quarterback has noticed.
"I think JJ’s done well," said Eli Manning. "We’ve seen some flashes of brilliance and really good things."
Manning also said Jernigan was "playing at a faster speed because he has an understanding of what’s going on and what all the options are, and the things he can do."
Jernigan admitted that the lack of an offseason program a year ago made it difficult to learn the Giants' passing attack.
"Last year we didn’t have OTA’s or rookie minicamp. They kind of just threw us out there," Jernigan said. "This year, I understand the playbook more and I’m not thinking as much when I go out there. I’m just going out there and reacting to what I see in the defense."
Without that offseason program Jernigan said things simply moved too fast for him as a rookie.
"They were moving so fast, when I was starting to learn something they would jump to something else," Jernigan said. "I didn't really learn all that, so I was just moving around here and there. I'm much better this year."
Head coach Tom Coughlin has also been pleased with Jernigan's work thus far.
"He’s made a couple of plays. He’s made some nice plays on the outside, and "turn and run" with the ball," Coughlin said. "We’re looking forward to his continuing advancement."
The Giants would also like for Jernigan to emerge as a force in both their kickoff and punt return games. Jernigan became the primary kickoff returner late last season, returning eight regular-season kickoffs for an average of 23.25 yards and five post-season ones for an average 23 yards per return. The Giants gave Jernigan an opportunity to win the punt return job in the preseason a year ago, but he struggled with ball security. He looks much more comfortable catching punts this time around.
"I'm not catching them [punts] like I caught them in college," Jernigan said. "Coach Coughlin's not having that back there, so I have to do it his way or there's no way. I had to change my style back there."
So far the changes in Jernigan -- catching punts and passes -- have been one of the most pleasant developments of training camp.