When the New York Giants take the field against the Dallas Cowboys in September, they will be doing so with a player we have hardly seen outside of sideline shots.
Neither starting tight end Evan Engram nor superstar running back Saquon Barkley have seen the field yet in preseason, and if they are held out from the third game, they likely won’t see the field until the regular season. Engram and Barkley are secure in their positions on the offense — and will likely be the focal point of the offense — but Engram still comes in to work.
“I come into work each and every day ready to prove myself,” Engram said. “I’m trying to make this team like everybody else. Like I said, it’s being smart and being cautious with things, but also, it’s more on my part to prepare mentally, prepare physically, and come out here and compete with the rest of the guys.”
“It’s football,” he added. “Like I said, you have guys out here who are trying to make the team and trying to make a career of being on the field. You have guys out there fighting just as much as they are going to be fighting in Week One, Week Two, and the regular season. It’s a lot more guys, (and) a lot more guys getting opportunities. It’s definitely a really important part of getting mentally prepared, especially with week one getting closer each day. It’s important. Preseason is important. People think it’s just scrimmaging and it doesn’t matter— but there are a lot of guys that have a lot on the line that we have to work with and help put into positions to make plays and do well and give them the best shot.
On his improved blocking
Despite being one of the few tight ends to not blow a block in 2018, the narrative persists that Evan Engram is not a good blocker. While he will always be undersized compared to a “classic” tight end, Engram’s blocking has improved tremendously since being drafted in 2017. But as much as he has improved last year, he believes he has improved even more heading in to 2019.
“It’s crazy,” Engram said. “It’s crazy how much better I have gotten at the blocking game. Credit to (Tight Ends Coach) Coach Wells and my teammates. I was talking with one of my family members about how my blocking game has evolved playing with Rhett (Ellison). Watching him each and every day, and working alongside him, it’s added a lot to my plate in the blocking game. With the steps, it’s the small details. I’ve always kind of had the punch, I’ve always had the heart to get in there and fight, but it’s been a lot of details. I really feel like I’ve taken my game to another level in that aspect, just through the coaching and playing with the guys.”
Giants’ head coach Pat Shurmur agreed, saying, “I think so. Yeah, I think he improved his game in all areas. That just comes with learning a new system and obviously getting comfortable with what we’re doing.”
When it was nearly a certainty that the Giants would be drafting a tight end in 2017, fans were hoping for “the next” Mark Bavaro or Jeremy Shockey. And of course Engram has been compared to those Giants greats over the last two years. Some have found him lacking for not being a prototypical tight end, while others are excited for what he brings to the table.
For his part, Engram is flattered, but is more focused on being “The First Evan Engram” than being “The Next” anybody else.
“I love those guys, and I love being compared to those guys [Bavaro and Shockey],” Engram said. “I’ve seen film and I’ve watched all the greats, and I have definitely learned a lot. I come up here each and every day to be the best Evan Engram I can be. As long as I take care of my body, as long as I get in the playbook, as long as I watch film and put the work in on the field, when the opportunity comes to make those plays, I’ll be getting comparisons, people will be comparing people to me. It’s a mindset to come in here and be the best that I can be, and that’s going to help my team be the best team it can be. At the end of the day, it’s football, and me putting the work in and making plays when they come.”
Having the preseason off
So far we haven’t seen Engram, or Saquon Barkley for that matter, on the field in preseason. While it’s frustrating for fans to not see the Giants’ most explosive playmakers on the field, it makes sense both tactically and strategically for them to sit out the exhibition games. The Giants need both Engram and Barkley to stay healthy for the regular season.
While Engram came on strong at the end of the 2018 season, having to battle injuries in the first part of the season held him back.
“...he was kind of hindered by his injuries,” head coach Pat Shurmur said. “There’s not a real process of that when you’re in the lineup, out of the lineup, in the lineup, and then out of the lineup. We’re obviously starting much further ahead than where we were a year ago.”
Engram understands the need for him to be healthy and why the coaches are taking the precautions they are. He also understands that his health is his responsibility as well.
Engram said, “Yeah, it’s just being smart. Obviously, I have to do my part as well. Taking care of my body and making sure I’m healthy and doing everything in my part. They are kind of easing me into things and allowing me to work up to the heavy workloads.
The other level to not playing Barkley and Engram is that there is also absolutely no way for the team to tip their hand if the coaching staff is going to change how they use them from 2018 if the pair isn’t on the field.
But that doesn’t make it easy to not be on the field with his teammates.
“Yeah, it’s been a little different (than) the past two years,” Engram said. “Usually I get some time, but I’m trying to do my part preparing mentally, (and) preparing physically each and every week like I am playing. I’m going through all of the motions and treating it as if I am playing. That’s probably the most important thing, is being mentally prepared. I’m trying to put myself in those situations.”