Rueben Randle making big strides in second season

Rueben Randle catches a pass during drills at

Rueben Randle catches a pass during drills at minicamp in East Rutherford, N.J. (June 12, 2013) (Credit: Joe Epstein)

Fantasy players, take note: If you're looking for a quality receiver once the elite ones are gone in the early rounds, Rueben Randle could be your guy.

While most of the news about the Giants' wideouts has focused on the two guys who haven't been around in the offseason -- Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks -- Randle has benefited from their absence.

If the offseason improvement and his surging confidence are for real, this figures to be a breakout season for the Giants' second-round pick from 2012.

Don't say we didn't tell you.

After an unspectacular rookie season, Randle has seized the opportunity to show his coaches he's ready to make a more meaningful contribution. They've noticed. Especially the guy calling the plays.

"No question, Rueben benefited ,'' offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "Rueben emerged from a guy that showed flashes, that always caught the ball well but maybe didn't always run the routes as precisely and crisply as you wanted, didn't have quite the understanding you wanted.''

And now?

"I mean, he looks like a guy that's been here for five or six years,'' Gilbride said. "His whole demeanor, his whole professionalism, was outstanding. Certainly, he has stepped into a leadership role. Not only did he grow, he kind of became the bell cow of the receiving corps. He was first in line and did all of those things. That was not what we saw last year, not by a long shot.''

Gilbride and his assistants were frustrated last season by Randle's inability to grasp the finer points of the Giants' system. It was a big leap from LSU, and Randle understands now why things didn't go so well last year, when he had 19 catches for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

But he had six catches for 82 yards in a Week 5 blowout of the Browns, and a TD in an upset of the Packers. But it was the four-catch, 58-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Eagles Week 17 in a 42-7 rout that Randle points to as the best example of his potential.

"I think I did a pretty good job overall, not only making plays, but also in the run game, making some blocks and springing the running backs on a few plays,'' he said.

It was one of the Giants' most impressive offensive games all season, although it came too late to make a difference; at 9-7, they missed the playoffs.

Randle hopes that won't happen this season, with or without Nicks and Cruz in the lineup. Cruz remains unsigned, and Nicks opted to stay away from the voluntary practices, showing up only for this week's mandatory minicamp.

"In terms of playing when the games start, [Randle] is going to be out on the field, unless something disastrous happens,'' Gilbride said. "He's earned the right.''

There was no epiphany that turned things around for Randle, but rather a gradual realization that he had to adjust to the pro game by being more diligent with his craft. Work harder in practice. Study more game tape. Run routes with more precision. Show more enthusiasm.

"There's a lot more going on in the NFL, a lot more complex defenses,'' he said. "I knew it was going to be an adjustment from day one, so I just tried to improve and get to the point where I could understand it better.''

That understanding flourished in the offseason, especially with increased practice reps without Cruz and Nicks around.

"It's given me more time with Eli [Manning], gaining the trust of the coaches, because they can see what I do. I think it's a 100-percent difference, just knowing what's going on and knowing the system, being here for a year and getting an understanding of what they want. I'd say it's a complete turnaround from what it was like at this time last year.''

And anything less than 50 catches this season would be a disappointment.

"I want to step up my game,'' Randle said. "A lot.''

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