Wayne Gallman is a quiet, unassuming, workman-like backup NFL running back. He usually enjoys a relatively quiet, anonymous existence in the New York Giants locker room.
This week, though — and for several weeks to come — Gallman’s circumstances are not usual. With Saquon Barkley sidelined for the next few weeks with a high ankle sprain Gallman is now the starting running back for the Giants.
This was the scene around Gallman’s locker at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center on Wednesday:
Media scrum around Wayne Gallman slightly larger than usual pic.twitter.com/wBJVu344Tw— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 25, 2019
So, yeah, things are just a little different for the 24-year-old, a 2017 fourth-round pick by the Giants.
Gallman flashed a bit as a rookie, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and gaining 476 rushing yards. He ran for a career-high 89 yards in the 2017 season finale against the Washington Redskins.
Caddying for Barkley last season, though, he got only 51 carries. This season, he had only seven in the first three games.
This Sunday against the Redskins, though, there shouldn’t be any shortage of opportunities for Gallman.
“I finally get to get some touches,” he said. “That’s my mindset. It’s all fun and games when it comes down to it. It’s another team we have to beat, another rivalry that we have. It’s a big game we have to win, so I have to be prepared.”
Gallman said he has “been preparing for three years” for this chance.
“This is what I’ve prepared for, this is what I have been preparing for, so I’m ready for it,” he told the media horde at his locker. “It’s an opportunity, I just have to take hold of it.”
How does the offense change?
Coach Pat Shurmur, as you would expect, expressed confidence in Gallman.
“We just keep going. We put Wayne Gallman in there, then we get ready to go and get the offense ready to play. That’s the reality in this league. It’s not cliché, it’s not coach speak. But it really is next man up. You don’t cancel the games because one of your guys is not there,” Shurmur said.
That is, of course, coach speak. Here is Shurmur’s description of Gallman’s skillset:
“He’s kind of a twitchy guy. He does a good job of getting it up in the hole. He has good collision balance. He’s improved catching the football. He’s pretty good with our pass protection. He’s a good all-around player, and he’s going to be asked to do more.”
Washington coach Jay Gruden isn’t expecting the Giants to change much of what they do.
“I don’t know if you can change a whole lot, really. I think you have your runs that you like — it’s a similar process, we’ve gone through a lot of backs here, we went through Adrian (Peterson) and Samaje (Perine) and obviously Derrius Guice — the runs really don’t change. I think the person running them changes,” Gruden said. “Saquon is one of the best backs in the league, probably the best back in the league. For a long time, he’s going to be a great back, and (Wayne) Gallman is a good player. I think he’ll probably lose some of the splash plays — when Saquon gets out in space, it’s a wrap — in the case of Gallman, who knows, we’ll have to wait and see.”
The offense, though, has to change some.
Per Inside Edge, the Giants have thrown the ball 47.5 percent of the time on first down through three games. That’s the second-most in the NFL and could even rise with Barkley sidelined.
Daniel Jones, the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, will now be asked to shoulder an offense without its best player.
“He’s [Barkley] certainly a huge piece of our offense, a huge piece of what we’ve done, without a doubt. I certainly hate to lose him, but I’m very confident in Wayne (Gallman) stepping up. He’s done a great job through the season and I know he’ll play well,” Jones said. “We have full confidence. We have a lot of playmakers all over the field, so I don’t think it really changes anyone’s job, necessarily. I think we are confident in who we have.”
Gallman, of course, is not Barkley. The longest run of his career in 169 attempts is 24 yards. To keep defenses honest and keep some of the burden off of Jones, despite his heroics last Sunday still a rookie quarterback making only his second NFL start, the Giants will have to run the ball effectively.
It’s often been shown that you can run the ball well despite not having a great running back to hand the ball to. The Giants are now in the position of needing to prove that.
So far this season the Giants have done an excellent job in run blocking. Inside Edge ranks the Giants second in the league in running back yards before contact at 4.9. League average is 3.4. Football Outsiders ranks the Giants eighth in the league in Adjusted Line Yards per rushing attempt at 4.93.
Who backs up Gallman?
As of this writing, the Giants have only Gallman and fullback Elijhaa Penny as healthy running backs on the 53-man roster.
The Giants worked out a group of veteran running backs on Tuesday, but Shurmur hinted that at least for this week undrafted free agent rookie Jon Hilliman could be bumped up from the practice squad to provide depth.
“We’ve got Jon Hilliman on our practice squad. He’s getting work at this point,” Shurmur said. “It’s like any position. You’re constantly looking for what’s the best fit. Sometimes it’s a short-term answer, and then maybe as we move forward, there might be a longer-term. We’ll just have to see.”