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Giants 90-man roster breakdown: Can TE Larry Donnell continue to improve?

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How will Donnell follow breakout 2014 season?

Larry Donnell
Larry Donnell
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2014 offseason the question New York Giants fans asked most often was 'who will play tight end?' Would the Giants sign a big-name free agent? Would they use a high draft pick on a tight end? Why the heck didn't they do either of those things?

Well, the answer turned out to be that the players they needed were on the roster the whole time. Larry Donnell had a breakout season as a pass-catcher. Daniel Fells did a nice job in a reserve role and even the much-maligned Adrien Robinson contributed a little bit.

Let's look at where Donnell goes from here as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.

2014 Season in Review

Donnell didn't exactly come out of nowhere last season. He spent 2012 on the Giants' practice squad and 2013 on the bench learnign his craft after being a collegiate quarterback. The Giants trusted his development last season, gave him the opportunity to be the No. 1 tight end and he rewarded them with a 63-catch season, the most receptions by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey had 66 in 2006.

At the end of the 2014 season Donnell lauded Tom Coughlin and the Giants for their patience in developing him.

"Coming in as a young player in this league there's a lot to learn," Donnell said. "Coach Coughlin's a great guy. He gave me probably the best chance anybody ever gave me. He took me under his wing and gave me an opportunity. If you can play football that's all that really matters. If you're a good guy he'll find a spot for you."

There were a number of highs for Donnell, including 25 catches in his first four game, punctuated by a Week 4 three-touchdown game vs. the Washington Redskins.

There were also lows, like Weeks 5 and 6 where he crashed back to earth by catching only one ball over those two games. There were also four fumbles, some of them very costly to the Giants. Donnell's suspect run-blocking (-13.1 Pro Football Focus score) was also problematic for the Giants.

2015 Season Outlook

Can Donnell continue to ascend in his career? If he can, perhaps a Pro Bowl berth is in his future. Ideally, the Giants will have Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle on the outside, and the addition of running back Shane Vereen as a pass catcher opens even more options. Maybe that means fewer targets for Donnell. Maybe, though, it means more one-on-one matchups for the 6-foot-5, 275-pound 26-year-old.

There is also the question of whether or not he can improve his blocking. The Giants need to run the ball better than they did in 2014, and it certainly would be nice if they don't have to take their best pass-catching tight end off the field in order to do it.

Donnell told Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com that he changed his training regimen in the offseason in an effort to become a better blocker.

"I was trying to refine my game so I can be better in the run game. I did some things, changed it up a little bit weight-wise and all," Donnell said this week after the Giants' first organized team activity workout. "The big problem with me is my hands used to go too wide. People used to get their hands inside of me, inside my chest and I lost a lot of battles there."

Donnell's health also complicates any forecast of what to expect from him in 2015. He was seen with a protective boot on his left foot during Monday's OTA and apparently has Achilles tendinitis. A cursory look at a variety of resources shows that recovery time from Achilles tendinitis can take anywhere from six weeks to three months. So, don't expect to see Donnell during the mandatory mini-camp later this month, and perhaps not even at the beginning of training camp.

Head coach Tom Coughlin referred to the issue as something that has been "ongoing." Donnell told reporters he had some trouble with his Achilles while at Grambling, but this is the first flareup since that time.

How the injury impacts his season, and whether not the injury lingers into or affects him during the regular season, remains to be seen.

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