Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
The statistic still is a source of embarrassment around the Giants, even after their stunning and unexpected march to a Super Bowl victory last season. Mention that 32nd-ranked running attack anywhere inside the locker room and no one will smile -- Super Bowl or not.
"I don't think anyone around here is happy about that," guard Chris Snee said. "We take pride in being able to run the ball, and when it doesn't happen, it's frustrating."
But if the spark that rookie running back David Wilson added Friday night was any indication, that frustration soon might come to an end. A surprise first-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech, he carried five times for 49 yards and caught two passes for 26 yards in the Giants' biggest preseason dress rehearsal before their Sept. 5 opener against the Cowboys.
"It felt pretty good out there, but there's definitely room for improvement," Wilson said. "It was good to play with the ones. I was a little nervous, but after the first play, I just said, 'OK, let's go. It's just football.' "
One three-play snippet in the first quarter showed just how effective Wilson can be. Subbing for starter Ahmad Bradshaw -- who would have played had this been the regular season but was rested after bruising a hand against the Jets -- Wilson took a pitch to the left and ran a misdirection to the right. He went 20 yards to the Giants' 32 before being brought down.
On the next play, Wilson found a hole on the left side and ran 15 yards to the Giants' 47, breaking a tackle along the way. Then he took a short pass from Eli Manning to the left and raced 29 yards up the sideline before being pushed out of bounds. The Bears made things worse with a personal foul for tackling Wilson after he was out of bounds.
"Those three plays, I'm happy with," Wilson said. "I just want to keep getting better. My whole time I was playing, there were some small things. But I was happy with what I did."
It was an impressive sequence for the 5-9, 205-pound Wilson, who finished as Virginia Tech's eighth-leading rusher with 2,662 career yards and tied a team record by rushing for at least 100 yards in 10 games in 2011. It's what the Giants had hoped to see from the athletic Wilson, who showed an instinctiveness you can't teach. On one play, he leaped over fullback Henry Hynoski, who had fallen after attempting a block, and gained nine yards.
There's no telling how rookie running backs will respond to early action, but Wilson seemed entirely comfortable. There were no apparent gaffes in his pass protection, which is always a concern among coaches and quarterbacks.
"To be successful, you have to do both,'' Wilson said, referring to running and blocking. "If you can protect him and you can't be productive with the ball in your hands, then you're not going to be on the field much, and if you can't protect him and you're productive with the ball in your hand, you won't be on the field as much. We want to be good at both so you want a balance and have the best of both worlds."
Manning was particularly anxious to see how Wilson would do, and he was not disappointed. "I think he did a great job for us," he said. "When you draft a running back in the first round, he's going to get some playing time. He was excited to get some runs. It's good to see."
From the time he joined the Giants, Wilson has never seemed overwhelmed. In most training camp practices, he showed the exceptional speed, quickness and agility that attracted the Giants in the first place. Sometimes you look at a running back and you just see it, the effortlessness and ease with which he plays. You saw that in Wilson in practice and you saw it transferred to game conditions. Always a good sign.
"I feel pretty confident in my abilities," he said. "There's still a lot of stuff to learn, and I have to work on things, but I feel like I'm getting better.''
The Giants looked to Wilson as the replacement for Brandon Jacobs, who was not retained after last season. But Wilson has greater athletic ability than Jacobs and can be a much better complement to Bradshaw than Jacobs, whose plodding style was part of the problem with last year's running attack.
In all likelihood, Wilson will experience the growing pains that affect just about every young player, so it's premature to say the running game has arrived. But when given the chance to play with the first-team offense, Wilson showed everything you look for in a young player. He was quick to the hole, saw the field well and broke tackles on his longer runs.
That's something the Giants' running backs didn't do enough last season, particularly Jacobs. Even Bradshaw, who fought injuries through much of the season, averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, down from 4.5 the previous year.
But after the glimpses Wilson showed against the Bears, the Giants at least have realistic hope that the embarrassing numbers from a year ago won't be repeated.