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Orleans Darkwa Eyes Giants’ No. 1 Running Back Job

That’s been given to Paul Perkins, but Darkwa aims to snatch it away

New York Giants v Washington Redskins
Orleans Darkwa carries the ball.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Paul Perkins was long ago anointed by coach Ben McAdoo as the New York Giants’ No. 1 running back. Orleans Darkwa has other plans.

“Even though McAdoo’s claimed that Perkins is the starter my mentality is to go and try to take that job,” Darkwa said after a recent training camp practice. “That’s always been my mentality.”

Darkwa, 25, has shown glimpses of being a quality back the past two seasons. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry in limited duty in 2015, carrying 36 times for 153 yards. Last season, he gained 111 yards on 30 carries (3.7 per rush) with two touchdowns. He had his career-best game Week 3 vs. the Washington Redskins, carrying 10 times for 53 yards and a touchdown, and catching one pass for 9 yards.

He did all of that while dealing with a leg injury he thought was shin splints. It turned out to be a fractured tibia of his left leg.

“It just started tailing down towards the end of the season. Started getting worse and worse,” Darkwa said.

He finally went on IR and had a plate surgically installed in that troublesome leg.

Orleans Darkwa
Photo by Ed Valentine

“We finally got that out of the way,” he said. “The doctors keep saying it’s only going to get better and better and better.”

Darkwa has been a full participant this year, going all the way back to OTAs. He hopes this will finally be the season he does more than tease Giants’ coaches, fans, and himself with what he can do on the field.

“I sure hope so. Last year as far as the health was concerned that was something that kinda bugged me at the end of the season. Things didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I’m just hoping, like you said, got a glimpse here, a glimpse there. I just want to put a complete season together. Be there for my teammates, be there for the coaches, whatever they need me to do,” Darkwa said.

“But at the end of the day I’ve always said I want to be that impact player for this offense, and I’m hoping to do that.”

Training camp has offered Darkwa a good chance to show his skill set. Shane Vereen, the apparent No. 2 back and primary pass-catcher, has been held out of recent practices. Shaun Draughn (ankle) has yet to practice. Rookie Wayne Gallman is being worked in slowly. That has meant a lot of reps for Darkwa.

Vereen and Draughn are older than Darkwa, but in his fourth year with the Giants he is the team’s longest-tenured running back.

“Being here that long you learn things. I appreciate Rashad [Jennings] for all he’s done while he’s been here. Looking back at it to be the longest-tenured here, coming from a guy that was undrafted, didn’t get a call until like two days after the draft, it’s kind of a blessing to be in the situation I’m in,” Darkwa said.

“At the same time I never get complacent about it. I still haven’t claimed that starter role.”

Darkwa worked out with Jennings during the off-season and said he still talks to him nearly every day.

“He taught me so much on the field. Pass protection, what he’s looking for when he runs the ball. Just the little things,” Darkwa said. “But even moreso off the field, and that’s what I respect him for the most. How to prepare yourself for life after football, because I think at the end of the day let’s just be realistic, when football’s done with you it’s done with you. You’ve gotta make sure you shape up your life in the sense that you’ll be ready for life outside of it.”

Before he gets to that phase of his life, though, Darkwa still hopes to accomplish more on the field. Like becoming a big contributor to the Giants’ offense.

“I feel like the best is yet to come,” Darkwa said I feel like they haven’t seen the best of me yet.”