Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
When it comes to the Giants' receivers, all anyone really cares about now is when the ones who aren't on the field are coming back. It's all Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) and Victor Cruz (knee) all the time.
But in a quiet part of the locker room stands a player who reminds you that he, too, can be a big part of the passing game. Even if he lacks the charisma and freakish athleticism of Beckham or the brute strength and trademark salsa dance of Cruz.
"This is a big year for me, and I'm looking forward to being the player I know I can be,'' Rueben Randle said. "I get it now. I know what's expected of me, and now I'm just going to go out there and prove it every day. That's my main focus.''
So it was not insignificant to Randle that he was the target on the final play for the starters in the three-day minicamp that ended Thursday. With time ticking down in simulated game conditions, Eli Manning lofted a pass toward the right corner of the end zone.
Randle was locked in tight one-on-one coverage with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and as the ball arced toward him and just over the diving Rodgers-Cromartie, Randle caught it and tiptoed in bounds.
It's a play he hopes to see more of once the games count. Randle, 24, begins his fourth NFL season with high expectations. There have been flashes of excellence: He had six TDs in 2013 and a career-high 938 receiving yards last year. But his drops and route-running have frustrated Manning, and tardiness for meetings has flummoxed Tom Coughlin. Randle was benched for the first quarter twice in three games late last season.
"Everything is cleared up,'' he said. "Sometimes things happen, but you learn from it and don't let it happen again.''
He understands now. Especially in this, the final year of his contract, Randle knows there is no room for error if he wants to sign a lucrative deal with the Giants, or with another team if they are ready to part ways with the 2012 second-round pick.
"The contract will take care of itself,'' Randle said. "The thing now is to push forward, leave everything that's in the past in the past, get to the playoffs and make a Super Bowl run.''
Year 2 of coordinator Ben McAdoo's West Coast offense has proved beneficial for Randle, who can play faster because he better understands the concepts and nuances of a sometimes complex system. His coaches have taken note.
"He is a really intelligent football player,'' receivers coach Sean Ryan said. "The game makes sense to him. He processes stuff really quickly, and I think the more tape he watches and the more practice snaps he gets, the quicker that stuff happens for him and the quicker reactions he makes. I would say that is really what has shown up to me. The more football he plays, the better he gets.''
With Beckham and Cruz rehabbing, Randle has been Manning's go-to guy in offseason workouts. "Getting to work on stuff has been really good and really important to me,'' he said. "I'm getting very comfortable in this offense.''
But Randle will be glad to see them return.
"To be honest with you, I'm not a fan of the spotlight, so I want them around,'' he said. "I just try to do my work and go home. It makes my job a lot easier having those two guys here, so I'm not complaining at all.''
A forgotten man? Perhaps. But if Randle plays the way he thinks he will, he may not avoid the spotlight. Especially if he's Manning's go-to receiver if Cruz and Beckham are limited.
"I'm ready for the challenge,'' Randle said. "Just ready to keep on working and moving forward. I know what's expected of me.''