NFL Media's Oklahoma Drill series presents exclusive, quick-hitting one-on-one interviews with players and coaches from around the league. No nonsense -- just football experiences directly from the source.
Tight end, New York Giants
Born: Sept. 2, 1994
Experience: Two NFL seasons
It was crazy to see [Odell Beckham Jr. traded]. I just got done with a workout, and I was on the phone with my agent, talking about [the Giants] having a good season this year and a lot more stuff off the field. I hang up that phone call and get a call from one of my friends and he said, "Did you see what happened?"
I wasn't shocked. Obviously, there's more opportunities for other guys with him leaving, and more guys are going to have to step up, including myself. But losing a talent like that, you don't want to. He's a fun guy to be around, and he's helped me since Day 1.
I took it kind of like a challenge. I've got to get ready for the opportunity that it will present.
[Beckham] helped me a lot this past year. I was injury-riddled and had a bad game or two, and he could see the battle that was going on in my head. He related with something he went through in his second year. He had a couple drops, went through some adversity and wasn't playing up to his expectations. He was there to let me know that I'm not the only person to go through something like this, who's working as hard as I can and not getting results. He was able to relate to me, and when somebody like Odell makes something relatable, it definitely made me feel a lot better. I was able to get out of that little funk and get my confidence back, and I ended up having a good second half of the year.
[Retaining our coaching staff] allows us to not be comfortable or complacent, but we can hone in on some details. We can fine-tune some things to take us to another level. Obviously, when you come in with a new staff, it's important to get the offense down, and you have to touch all of the bases and find success around that. Now going into Year 2 with this staff, you're able to still attack the base -- you have to teach new players the playbook and stuff -- but we have guys who know the formula and can focus on the details. Those details could get us another win or a couple more plays. It can make the big picture even bigger.
The biggest thing is, we have to stay away from negative plays. We had a lot of them, especially in the first half of the season. We were starting off drives second-and-20, second-and-18, and it's hard to get in a rhythm like that. One drive can affect two drives down the road, and when you're in rhythm and in their territory then have a bad play or make a mistake, it affects everything.
We also need to play complementary football, and it starts with the offensive line up front. Even the tight end position is part of that, and we have to pick up our blitzes and protection. Then we need guys on the outside to be special and make those plays and hard catches for Eli.
[Fans and the media] just see Eli (Manning) make a bad read or Eli getting sacked. They don't see that maybe there was a missed block here or a dropped ball there or a wrong route. One person's success is a lot of times based off the man next to him. A lot of people don't see that; they just see where their eyes are taking them. It's easy to do that when you're watching from your couch or if you're at the game when everybody is flying around. I get it, but it's the bigger picture.
One-hundred percent, [Eli has what it takes to elevate the offense]. Eli picks up every blitz. He knows who's coming. We hold protection meetings. He still can throw the ball and drive the ball down the field and give us opportunities to go up and make plays. So, 100 percent, he still has it.
I think we have the best fans in the league, hands down. They're the most passionate. They're very honest, very honest. But even through all of the struggles we've had, they show up every Sunday. They have a lot of hope, and they deserve a lot better than what we've been doing. So, yeah, I understand all the craziness and frustration and questions.
Where we are right now is where we want to be. People are sleeping on us, and we get to bring this whole new team together to build the culture we want. With the success we had last year (when the Giants went 5-11) coming off my rookie year (when they went 3-13), we're going in the right direction. We're getting more guys in that have the right mentality and are on the same page.
If our fans can have a little bit more patience, a lot of that frustration and a lot of those questions will slowly go away when we start seeing some success in September.
[Rob Gronkowski] transcended the position. He's about the size of a typical tight end, but he was doing things that nobody has done. You have your Tony Gs, and obviously, he is a Hall of Famer, and Jimmy Graham was good with the Saints, but Gronk has probably been the most consistent one. He just took the position to a whole other level from a play-making standpoint. A lot of people think of a tight end as an extra right tackle, but he showed that we can be athletic, too, and be a big part of game plans. That we can have that feeling of being unstoppable, like a top receiver would have, or a running back, and those skill positions would have. He gave the position some respect from a game plan standpoint, and giving us more opportunities to be athletic in space.
I've been really focused on explosion. I've kind of found a formula with my route running, and details with my blocking have gotten better. Now I want to take my athleticism and explosion to another level, so when I do catch those passes, they're not a 5-yard out that gets 10 [yards]. It's a 5-yard out that gets 30, 40, 50 yards, or it's a deep ball where I have to outrun a guy and jump over him.
The game is starting to slow down, and I'm able to get in space and make things happen. Now, I want to work on my body, explosion and athleticism to be faster, jump higher, make those one-legged cuts, be nimble and as fast as possible.
Aside from the crazy talent they have and the abilities they have, they still have time to get even better, which is scary. Those guys are going to come in Day 1 as professionals and be ready to do whatever it takes to help that team win.
[Saquon Barkley is] a special player, and you see him do things that make you hungry and say, "Shoot, I want to be able to do that, too." I've been working on my legs. I'm not quite at his level yet, but it's getting there. But seriously, we've been working out [in Los Angeles] with different trainers, but we've touched base. We're just making sure each one is working, and we still have an entire offseason together.