That’s an unflattering, undesirable moniker no NFL player really wants next to his name. NFL games, after all, are played in the fall and winter months. Unfortunately, three seasons into his career with the New York Giants the “Spring Superstar” tag is firmly attached to New York Giants tight end Matt LaCosse.
The Giants recently concluded their offseason program, and throughout that time LaCosse was outstanding — quite often looking like the best tight end on the roster. That, though, was hardly a surprise. We saw the same thing from LaCosse in 2015. And again in 2016. In two seasons, though, all that has managed to get him is three regular-season receptions in two games at the end of the 2015 season.
“It’s frustrating. You get sick of hearing it after a while, but you understand why you hear it,” LaCosse said during a recent phone interview. “I’m kind of taking everything with a grain of salt, like, yes I played well enough (in the spring) but it means nothing if I don’t play well or stay healthy during camp.”
Staying healthy has been the issue for the 24-year-old.
In 2015, LaCosse suffered a right hamstring injury at the outset of training camp. He ended up waived/injured even though the injury wasn’t severe. In the NFL, that’s what happens to UDFAs who are going to miss practice time.
“I was an undrafted kid. I was good but no one really knew about me. I was good but I really hadn’t proven anything to them,” LaCosse said.
Once healthy, he had a brief training camp stint with the New York Jets, but lasted less than a week before he was cut.
After that, LaCosse sat home, working out, hoping the phone would ring and admittedly wondering if his shot at the NFL had already come and gone.
“Of course. Those thoughts definitely creep into your head. Maybe it’s time for me to go put my degree (broadcast journalism, incidentally) to work, but you keep working out, you try to push past those thoughts the best that you can and hope something happens -- another opportunity,” LaCosse said. “I’m very thankful that an opportunity did come about.”
In the spring, LaCosse had made a bigger impression on the Giants than he apparently realized. In early November, the opportunity LaCosse hoped for came when the Giants invited him to a tryout. He took advantage, landed on the practice squad and ended up on the 53-man roster for the final two games of the season.
“What I tell rookies, especially undrafted guys is as cliche as it is anything is possible. My rookie year story is pretty unique,” LaCosse said. “Just randomly get a call to try out. All of a sudden I’m on practice squad and all of a sudden I’m playing against the Vikings on prime time football. Even though it was an up and down rookie season it was kind of a cool experience and I think one thing I’ve learned about myself is don’t ever stop trying, don’t ever stop working because crazy things can happen in this world. Might as well try, and the worst thing that happens is you say you put your best foot forward.”
2016 Season In Review
LaCosse was once again putting that best foot forward in the early part of the 2016 season. A typically strong spring, followed by what LaCosse felt was a good start to training camp and the preseason. Until he stuck his right foot in the ground on an out route vs. the Buffalo Bills in the second preseason game, tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee and needed season-ending surgery.
“I was having a really good camp, too,” LaCosse said. “Played well in two preseason games, was practicing really well at camp and then just a freak injury happened.”
2017 Season Outlook
LaCosse, obviously, is back one more time to try and show the Giants that he can be more than an outstanding spring practice player. To be honest, the fact that LaCosse is getting yet another opportunity with the Giants is pretty amazing, and a testament to the ability they believe he possesses. Undrafted free agents who get waived/injured as rookies rarely get second — or third — chances. Especially with their original team. Often, they are waived right into their next careers.
“It’s a credit to the organization. I’ve had pretty good springs. I’ve gotten injured later in the year, which was unfortunate. I think I have shown a lot in OTAs and mini-camps, but for them to keep me around this long and give me an opportunity is a credit to them on how class of an organization they are,” LaCosse said. “I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me. They’ve shown me nothing but the utmost respect. It really wants to make you play hard and get back on the field and stay healthy this year so you can contribute and make it worth their investment.”
What is it that the Giants like about LaCosse? Coach Ben McAdoo was asked to explain that during OTAs. Here is what he said:
“He is a big target down there in the green zone. Matchup-wise, he gives you that length that you are looking for, he can run and he is a functional blocker, so he has a nice skill set.”
LaCosse said he has changed his training regimen in the off-season, adding chiropractic care and massage therapy, and moving away from an emphasis on weight training.
“My training isn’t as weight-based, it’s more movement-based and flexibility. Just trying to be able to move the best I can and be as not injury-prone as possible, for lack of a better term,” he said.
“No one will ever tell you that they’re 100 percent going to be injury-free. That’s not the world we live in. But there are things you can and certain exercises, the way you eat, the way you sleep. There’s certain things you can do to help your odds.
“I think I’ve given myself the best opportunity to go into camp and fight for a job and be healthy through a season.”
Fight for a job is exactly what LaCosse is going to have to do in training camp and the preseason.
The Giants have first-round pick Evan Engram at tight end. They have free-agent signee Rhett Ellison to presumably fill the blocking tight end/H-Back role. They have last year’s starter, Will Tye. It may, in fact, be Tye who has benefitted most from LaCosse’s injuries. Back in the spring of 2015, LaCosse looked to be well ahead of Tye on the tight end depth chart. Tye, though, has gotten to play for two years while LaCosse has battled those injuries. Last year’s sixth-round pick, Jerell Adams, also appears to be an improving player.
“In all honesty I don’t try to differentiate myself at all. I come in I play hard, I work hard, I know my assignments, I try to make as many plays as possible, try and turn some heads, and what happens, happens,” LaCosse said of the competition. “Can’t really worry about what the other guys are doing or who they brought in. I’m here to compete, I’m here to make everyone better, and that’s kind of how you have to look at your job. There’s no what can this guy do, what can that guy do. What can I do to make this team better. What can I do to make myself better, and let’s fight for a job.”
Based on what we saw in the spring — really the past three springs — if LaCosse can keep himself together through the preseason there is a pretty good chance he will win one of those jobs.
[NOTE: Thanks to Matt for taking time out of his offseason to spend a few minutes on the phone with me.]