Physically, Giants tight end/fullback Larry Donnell is hard to miss.
The first-year player, who spent last year on the Giants practice squad stands 6-6 and is listed as 269 lbs. That’s impressive size for a tight end trying to carve out a niche for himself in the NFL.
Donnell, who played his college ball at Grambling, is hoping that after spending the spring on the side due to a broken foot, he can catch up and catch on with the Giants 53-man roster this season.
“We’d like to see if Larry Donnell can make a contribution,” said tight ends coach Michael Pope earlier this camp. “Certainly size and talent-wise, he has that. But he missed all the spring and minicamps because of a broken foot, so he’s virtually just starting right now. So, how fast can those guys grow? The faster they grow, the more effective we’re going to be.”
Donnell’s challenge this summer isn’t only to grow as a tight end. He’s been seeing a fair amount of snaps at the fullback spot as well, working behind Bear Pascoe, who was pressed into action at that position thanks to the knee injury suffered by incumbent starter Henry Hynoski at the end of May.
Donnell believes that if he can show just enough at that fullback spot, he might just be able to contribute to the Giants’ offense in 2013.
“I’ve never played fullback before until I got here,” he said. “It’s kind of weird right now, but I’m starting to get accustomed to it. The more I do it, [the more] it’s starting to become second nature to me.”
The biggest adjustment Donnell has had to make with learning the fullback spot has been not just that the position has a different vantage point of the play, but also the little extra things a fullback is asked to do that an in-line tight end is not.
“The thing about the fullback position that is different from playing tight end is the motions and stuff,” Donnell said. “That’s been a little weird for me, just motioning into the backfield and seeing the defense at that perspective, but you get a clearer picture from the backfield and it’s something you have to get used to.”
Donnell smiled when asked how he graded out at the fullback spot in his first preseason game. “I think I have to get better. There are a lot of areas where I have to get better.”
To make sure he does just that, he’s been working with Pope on refining the little things that mean the difference, not just at the fullback spot, but also in taking those philosophies toward his play at tight end.
For example, Donnell has been working on drills designed to help him maintain proper leverage when he gets that running start at a linebacker trying to fill a hole.
“When you learn these new tricks, it’s like, amazing,” said Donnell. “I come from a small school and we didn’t really learn the little details that can elevate your game. When I got here with Coach Pope, those little things like taking the right step, made a difference. When you do things the correct way, you see the results.”
He’s also been doing a lot of drive blocking against a sled because, as he explained, “Coach Pope wants, when we drive the sled, to get our body up against it which is the proper technique. So that’s been very helpful for me.”
Donnell has also received a few tips here and there from Jerald Ingram, the Giants running backs coach, such as where to put his head when lead blocking, and he’s watched film of both Pascoe and Hynoski, taking his questions to both teammates, who he said have been more than willing to help him in his development.
That’s a lot of information for a young player to process considering his small school background. But Donnell said that he hasn’t found himself overwhelmed, and has in fact embraced the challenge of absorbing the details that go along with the assignments at both positions.
“It just takes study and film study,” he said. “The more I get accustomed to it, the better. It’s starting to get a little easier for me so a lot of stuff now is definitely helpful.”
In addition to contributing at fullback, Donnell is also excited about the possibilities at tight end, especially given how the position has evolved over the years.
“The tight end position — you can do so much with all the big guys,” he said. “We’re just getting bigger and faster.”
One thing the Giants are hoping to do more of with their tight ends this year is to use them as slot receivers against smaller defensive backs, and to also add their size in short yardage and goal line situations.
Just how good can guys like Donnell be down around the goal line, where last year the Giants had some struggles in converting?
“Well, effective as run-blockers,” said Pope. “But the other thing is even in the approach to the drill run. Here are guys that can jump like gazelles. So if the ball goes up, one of them has a chance to get it.”
While he acknowledges he’s far from being a finished product, Donnell is well aware of what he needs to do to have a chance of being on the final 53-man roster this year.
“I just need to continue to grow and learn to get better, learn from my mistakes and just grow as a player and learn as much as I can,” he said. “The more you can do, the more value you’ll have to the team.”