Each day this summer, SNYGiants will profile a lesser-known member of the New York Giants football team. The order will rotate offensive and defensive players.
Name: Orleans Darkwa
Uniform #: 26
Experience: 1 year
Acquired: Signed off the Dolphins’ practice squad Nov 12, 2014.
Darkwa was signed by the Dolphins as a UDFA out of Tulane, where he rushed for 2,953 yards on 663 carries and 39 touchdowns. He made the Dolphins’ 53-man roster and played the first four games of the regular season before being released to make room for Knowshon Moreno. He was subsequently signed to the Dolphins practice squad in early October.
The Giants snatched Darkwa, 23, off Miami’s practice squad last November after Michael Cox was placed on IR with a fractured leg. He served mainly as a special teamer and a relief back to Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. Darkwa saw the most action in the Giants’ Week 16 win in St. Louis, rushing for 21 yards on four carries with a TD. He also caught two passes for 17 yards.
Darkwa will attempt to keep his roster spot this summer behind Jennings, Williams and free agent Shane Vereen. The Giants have also brought in some competition this spring with UDFAs Akeem Hunt and Kenneth Harper.
In January, Darkwa was asked what the top thing he needs to work on before next season by Dan Salamone of Giants.com:
“I wouldn’t point to just one thing, but overall, just trying to be an all-around back. Catching the ball out of the backfield, pass protection is pretty key, just understanding the concepts of the offense so I can come here next season and not have any doubts and not have any questions.”
What’s been said…
“Orleans Darkwa, who played for us a lot last year, played a lot of teams and has done a good job. He picks up the offense, very smart, very smart player, has very good speed, is good on the edge runs and has done a good job inside. I put him in there in the two-minute situation today and we didn’t miss a beat in the two-minute, so I thought he did a really good job.” – RB coach Craig Johnson, June 18, 2015
“Orleans Darkwa, here is a young man who impressed us very much right away when he came to us because I would continue to check with (Johnson) about, what do you think about [Darkwa] and how is he doing. He picked things up very fast. I think the level of confidence was recognized by the fact that he was inserted many times in the game on third down against a team that has a very, very complicated pressure and blitz package and he was able to go in and help us in that regard as well.” – Coach Tom Coughlin, Dec 22, 2014
“First of all, to be able to come in and pick things up the way (Darkwa) has, says a lot about him and his study habits. Craig is doing a nice job with those guys, catching them up to speed and he has a knack for finding the hole or if there is a small crease in there. He can kind of get down low and get through there in a hurry. He has done some good things out of the backfield. Otherwise in pass protection, he has been a pleasant surprise.” – OC Ben McAdoo Dec 26, 2014
“Darkwa has been a great pickup for us. He’s a good, sound football player. Guys like that, you really like.” – Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn Dec 26, 2014
John Fennelly, Lead Writer
While his teammates are enjoying their summer break, DE Jason Pierre-Paul continues to work out and reshape his body. He recently posted on social media that his weight is down to a svelte 274 pounds and he is ready to face all comers this season.
JPP, who was designated with the franchise tag this spring, missed the team portion of the Giants’ offseason program in an attempt to get a long-term deal out of the Giants. Thus far, it hasn’t worked. The parties have until July 15 to strike such a deal. If they don’t, JPP will have no choice but to play for the franchise tag salary of $14.8M this season and face free agency again in 2016. There have been no rumblings of him holding out.
The former All-Pro had a solid season in 2014, recording 12.5 sacks – the most since his breakout season of 2011 – and led the team with 21 QB hits. The Giants would like to believe that JPP is past his back shoulder ailments before they commit long-term to him.
He looks fairly fit in the below video and I’m sure the Giants have taken notice.
Each day this summer, SNYGiants will profile a lesser-known member of the New York Giants football team. The order will rotate offensive and defensive players. Monday, we profiled DE Kerry Wynn.
Today we focus on an offensive player, center Weston Richburg.
Uniform #: 70
College: Colorado State
Experience: 2 years
Acquired: Selected by the Giants in the 2nd round (43rd overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Profile: Richburg was the first center selected in 2014, being heralded as versatile, durable smart and strong. Richburg was believed to be the team’s center of the future, but injuries forced the Giants to employ veteran J.D. Walton at center and insert Richburg at left guard, where he started 15 games in place of the injured Geoff Schwartz. As a result, his rookie season did not go as expected.
The Giants cut ties with Walton in the offseason, have recently moved Richburg back to his natural position at center and believe they will be set at the position for years to come. The club is confident that Richburg will be a significant upgrade over Walton, who was clearly overmatched in several games.
Richburg also welcomed the change after getting schooled more often than not in the LG slot. After starting the first eight games there, Richburg was benched in favor of journeyman Adam Snyder against the Cowboys Nov. 23. But Richburg was called back into duty after Snyder sustained a knee injury mid-game and finished the season as the starting LG.
On the move back to center:
“It was a great learning experience,” Richburg said of his rookie season. “Sometimes, things didn’t go the way I wanted, but I learned a lot. I really did, playing against the talent I played against in the position I did. I definitely learned things that will help me when I am inside at center.
“Everything happens a little quicker than it does at guard, because there is a guy right on you. You get hands on quicker and make contact quicker. I like that, because there is less space for the defense.”
What’s been said:
“He is a center, He will have every opportunity to compete.” – Coach Tom Coughlin
“Weston is a natural center. I am excited for him. I am excited for the offense. I think he brings some energy to the position and to the offense. He’s a guy who likes to have control of things and likes to have his hand on the football. He works very hard at it. I like Weston.” – Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo.
“He learned an awful lot last year but I knew that he was going to be a player for a very long time and I know I’m using that, but I believe it because he likes the game of football. He really has embraced the center position because you are the voice of everybody to start out and the quarterback may change things, but you are telling everyone what to do. I think that Weston has a little bit of boss man in him and he likes that.” – Offensive Line Coach Pat Flaherty
John Fennelly, Lead Writer
Some items of interest on this overcast Saturday morning….
DT Jon Hankins is going to play a major role on the Giants’ defensive front again this season. Book it.
Giants third-year NT Johnathan Hankins is “primed for a big season” under new DC Steve Spagnuolo.
“I really like where Hank is,” DL coach Robert Nunn said. “He had some legit numbers. He’s got a chance to be a solid player for a long time in this league.” The Giants are expecting Hankins to build off his breakout sophomore season, where he posted 51 tackles, seven sacks, and 12 QB hits as a 16-game starter. He was a major part of New York’s late-season pass rush success. Hankins will play a key role in turning around one of the league’s worst run defenses.
He can’t do it alone, however. It’s true Hankins was a noticeably improved player in 2014, but the Giants were still the easiest team to run on last year, surrendering 4.9 YPC. The club hopes to address that with the addition of Kenrick Ellis and an increased role for second-year DT Jay Bromley.
Do the Giants’ have a new Kevin Boss or Jake Ballard in UDFA TE Matt LaCosse? Maybe.
Giants TE coach Kevin Gilbride Jr raved about UDFA Matt LaCosse’s performance during offseason workouts. “Different skillset,” Gilbride Jr said. “He’s a linear guy, can get down the field. Very bright. Matt didn’t make many mistakes. We had him in a role where we moved him around all the time.” LaCosse played a limited role in the Illinois offense, but ran 4.64 at his Pro Day with 20 bench press reps. He’s competing with Adrien Robinson, Jerome Cunningham, and Will Tye for the No. 3 tight end job.
Ballard was also a lightly-used player at the college level and developed into a key contributor on the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI championship team. LaCosse is 6’6″, 250 and from what he’s shown so far, he could be a “go-to” guy as teams will be focusing on the other Giants receivers.
And now this….
Giants linebacker J.T. Thomas believes in the “Treat Yo Self” mentality … because after he inked his new $12 MILLION contract … he picked up $55k in brand new bling … TMZ Sports has learned.
Thomas hit up Avianne and Co. in NYC — and scored himself an 18 karat gold Cuban link chain for $35k.
And because he didn’t want that chain to get lonely, he got a 2nd piece … a 25 karat ruby, surrounded by diamonds … which ran him another $20k. (TMZSports.com)
John Fennelly, Lead Writer
Over the past decade, QB Eli Manning has driven Giant fans crazy. He’s won games he should have lost and lost games he should’ve won. He throws with precision one week and then looks like a stiff the next.
But he is a stand up citizen that comes to work everyday and gives the Giants a chance to win every week. He’s also a two-time Super Bowl MVP that has a lot of life left in his 34-year-old arm.
That is why the Giants must end the drama – as mild as it’s been – and sign Eli to a contract extension. Easier said than done. This is a business, after all.
Manning seems somewhat unconcerned about his contract status, telling us that it will somehow work itself out. And we believe him, because if there ever was an honest guy, its Eli Manning. The six-year, $97,500,000 contract he signed back in 2010 concludes at the end of the season. What happens then could be shocking to many Giant fans.
“I guess I just feel blessed that I’ve got a job,” Eli told WFAN’s Boomer & Carton last week. “I’m playing football. I’ve never gotten concerned or worried about contract stuff. I let my agent handle that, let the Giants handle that. My focus is totally on going out there and getting back to winning games, and making the playoffs and playing good football…If I focus on that, concentrate on that, everything else will work itself out.”
Eli is not ready to pack up and leave, and seeing how difficult it is to find a franchise QB in this league, the Giants probably aren’t ready either. He told Boomer and Carton he wants to retire a Giant.
“I started here. When you get drafted and you come to an organization, you want to finish there. I’m going into my 12th year. I don’t want to change teams, I don’t want to change organizations, I don’t want to change cities. I’m happy where I am. I want to stay here. And hopefully it works out that way.”
The way Eli has looked this spring, the Giants know they will have to pay up when the time comes. He’s looked stellar, looking more comfortable in the offense and throwing the football with more meaning and zip than ever before. So, do they make him an offer now, or wait to see how the season goes?
The Giants know Eli isn’t planning on going anywhere voluntarily and if push comes to shove can use the franchise tag on him next March. That’s not likely to happen since the tag salary for QBs is estimated to be close to $20 million next year.
Eli currently has a cap number of $19.75M, but the Giants would like to reduce that, even though the salary cap has jumped to $143M and may increase again in 2016. Given the lofty deals lesser QBs in the league have recently signed, the Giants will have to pay him competitively and for a duration longer than they desire.
Several beat writers, including SNYGiants insider Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News, believe the Giants may want to see how the season pans out before making Eli an offer. If they fail to qualify for the playoffs again, a shake-up may be in order and a QB in his mid-30’s may not be the most feasible building block.
Foregoing Eli would be a mistake and one this franchise may never live down. I don’t think it will come to fruition. The Giants have to keep Manning in the fold. Unless you think Ryan Nassib is the answer (or someone else) you should agree, too. This is the greatest QB in New York Giant history who still has a lot of passes left in that arm of his.
How can the Giants even think about cutting ties with him? The answer: they can’t. They better not. Eli wants to retire a Giant. I say, let him.
John Fennelly, Lead Writer
Several years back, I wrote that Giants WR Victor Cruz was the most important sports figure in this city since Derek Jeter. Not such a bold statement at the time, but now that Jeter is off the day-to-day radar, Cruz is the face you’re going to see the most of going forward.
Coming from a mixed-race background like Jeter, Cruz plays to the New York fan base as well it’s diverse populace. On the field, he captivates the fans with breathtaking big plays and his patented salsa TD celebration. Off the field, he displays the best of what New York has to offer athletes: endorsements and the good life.
In addition to the five-year, $45.8 million deal the Giants signed him to in June of 2013, Cruz has multiple endorsements thanks to signing with the global super-agency IMG. He has appeared in ads for GAP, Pepsi, Nike, ESPN and Time Warner Cable over the past several years and has a running gig with Foot Locker (#CruzDay Tuesday).
But when Cruz went down last October with a torn patellar injury, putting his career in serious doubt, several of those advertisers chose to scale back on his activity (AdWeek, Oct 20, 2014).
Cruz was able to keep himself relevant with a constant rapport via his nealry half-a-million Twitter and Instagram followers. His rehab has been heavily documented through social media and his popularity has not taken the hit most thought it would, especially with the emergence of Odell Beckham, Jr., who has become the club’s top offensive player.
However, some don’t care about what Cruz solely represents on the field. Injured or healthy, he’s marketable. On Wednesday, Givenchy announced that Cruz will be the men’s face of their Fall-Winter 2015 campaign (GQ.com, June 25).
According to Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, Cruz is “a perfect mix of charisma, power, elegance and beauty, and a gentleman with the looks of a bad boy.” Enough said. The French rarely turn to Americans to sell products, but Cruz has that international flair that crosses over and transcends cultures. He is universally loved.
He has come up big ever since he walked into the Giants’ training facility as a undrafted free agent out of Paterson, N.J. in 2010 and set the NFL on its ear. He connected with the community immediately and many of the Giants’ young fans made him their favorite player, including young Jack Pinto, who was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut in 2012. Cruz honored he boy by wearing his name on his cleats during the team’s next game. Cruz then visited the Pinto family at their home in Newtown.
Cruz is the good guy that everyone is rooting for. They want him to come back strong. Chances are, he will. After all, he is the hometown hero. Just open any magazine, look up at any billboard and turn on your TV.
No one should doubt the power of Cruz, who is anywhere between 85-90 percent of his former self these days and hellbent on getting back in the flow at training camp next month.
“Yes, that is my expectation,” Cruz said last week at minicamp when asked if he will be 100 percent soon. “I think the way I feel right now, that is definitely the goal and that is where I want to be come training camp.”
Training camp is a long ways away (six weeks to be exact) but time flies. We’ll be working diligently to give you all the news and nuggets as camp nears on July 30. There are quite a number of storylines right now and we’d like to get your opinions on which ones are the most important to our readers this summer.
John Fennelly, Lead Writer
Here are our top storylines. Please comment or feel free to add your own…
1. Safety: Can Landon Collins step right in and lead the back end of the defense? Who will be his partner? Nat Berhe, Cooper Taylor, Mykkele Thompson, Bennett Jackson or Justin Currie? Or will it be Josh Gordy?
2. Left Tackle” Can rookie Ereck Flowers slide right in and start? How effective will he be and how well will the rest of the line hold up without Will Beatty? To read more of this story, click here