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Giants training camp: Are they better at tight end?

Larry Donnell had a breakout season in 2014. Can he repeat or improve upon that? Let's look at the tight end position as training camp approaches.

Larry Donnell
Larry Donnell
Al Bello/Getty Images

Much like the safety position this season, a year ago the New York Giants fan base was in a panic over how the team would fill the tight end position. Brandon Myers had been a flop in 2013 as the replacement for Martellus Bennett, and the Giants pretty much ignored the position in free agency and the NFL Draft, bringing in only journeymen Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis.

The Giants apparently knew what they were doing. Larry Donnell struggled as a blocker but had a breakout season as a pass catcher, grabbing 63 passes. Fells made the team and became a reliable blocker and red zone target. Even Adrien Robinson contributed toward the end of the season.

Can the Giants be better at tight end in 2015 than they were a season ago?

2014 Depth Chart

First team Second team Third team Other
Larry Donnell Daniel Fells Adrien Robinson Jerome Cunningham

2015 Depth Chart

Projected for start of training camp

First team Second team Third team Other
Larry Donnell Daniel Fells Adrien Robinson Jerome Cunningham
Matt LaCosse
Will Tye

2015 Roster Projection

From the pre-training camp 53-man roster projection:

First team -- Larry Donnell
Second team -- Adrien Robinson
Third team -- Jerome Cunningham 
Other -- Matt LaCosse
Practice Squad -- Will Tye
Cut -- Daniel Fells

Perhaps the answer to the question of whether or not the Giants can be better at tight end comes down to the health and development of Donnell. The 26-year-old missed spring workouts with a flare-up of Achilles tendinitis. The Giants need the red zone and middle of the field threat the 6-foot-5, 269-pound Donnell provides. If the Achilles issue lingers and Donnell were to miss games, the Giants would be missing a dynamic target in their passing attack.

Tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride Jr. was disappointed that Donnell missed spring workouts, largely because of the work Donnell still needs to do in order to become a competent blocker.

"It [blocking] is technique and confidence. Having him miss this offseason was not good for him in that regard. He is going to have to come into training camp and pick up where these other guys have left off in the improvements we have made in that area," Gilbride said. "We focused on certain things this offseason in the run game. It really started to show towards the end of the spring, which we were happy about. Happy to see. Still have a ways to go overall, but much improved. We were happy with where it went. We just want him to be a part of it."

Fells was the second tight end in 2014 and did well, but the opinion here has long been that the 31-year-old six-year veteran faces a serious challenge to his roster spot from the myriad of younger players behind him.

Robinson, in his fourth season, remains an enigma. For the first time in three season he got some real playing time at the end of the 2014 season, and caught five passes, the only catches of his career. Robinson could supplant Fells as the No. 2 tight end. He could, on the flip side, play himself off the roster entirely.

A trio of young, talented tight ends -- Jerome Cunningham, Matt LaCosse and Will Tye -- are trying to knock Fells, Robinson, or both, off the roster.

Cunningham, out of Division II Southern Connecticut State, was on the practice squad last season until being signed to the roster at the end of the season. He did not appear in any games. Cunningham had an excellent spring.

"What stands out is his effort. He is going to give great effort, no matter what. Whether he knew what he was doing or not, he was going to be going 100 miles per hour, whether he knew what block he was supposed to make or not. He was going to be doing it as well as he could," Gilbride said. "That gives them a chance. It gives every person who plays this game a chance to be successful, or at least to be noticed as far as staying on the squad in some capacity, which certainly he did. He has carried it over throughout the season and then now through the spring where he has made some good strides."

LaCosse, who played at Illinois, and Tye, who played at Stony Brook, were both signed as undrafted free agents. LaCosse was added after the draft, Tye after a rookie minicamp tryout. LaCosse, in particular, was impressive during the spring.

Provided that Donnell is healthy, gives the Giants similar production to what he did in 2014 as a receiver and can be at least marginally better as a run blocker, he will be the closest thing the Giants have to a complete tight end. Along with the other players the Giants have they will be fine at the position, perhaps even excellent. If, however, Donnell's Achilles injury is more serious, the Giants will have to mix and match and the position could end up being problematic.