Brandon Jacobs isn't a numbers guy. He doesn't keep track of stats such as yards or touchdowns or any of the other things he racks up for the Giants. But last week, when asked if he knew how many passes he'd dropped in camp, he had no problem coming up with the exact figure.

"None," he said. "I'm going to try to keep it that way."

So far, so good. Even in Monday night's preseason opener, Jacobs caught a pass. It was a 13-yarder in the left flank, caught after he chipped on All-Pro Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.

The buzz has always been that Jacobs plays football head-first as if he were built out of cement . . . and that included his hands. In 2007, he caught a career-high 23 passes, but last year, his best as a rusher, he caught only six.

"I want to get out and be able to do more of that," he said. "This 'Brandon Jacobs can't catch' thing is killing me. It's killing me."

$imageCaption

Jacobs spent the offseason working on his catching skills. So did all of the other running backs. In Monday's game, only three Giants caught more than one pass. Two of them were running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware, who had the most passes thrown to him (four) in the game, including one for a touchdown.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Getting the ball into Jacobs' hands in the open field almost always will result in a positive for the Giants. But it hasn't always been easy.

"I think it's something Brandon has worked on, getting out of the backfield, catching the ball, concentrating on catching it," Eli Manning said. "He does a good job. He catches it naturally."

It may look natural, but Jacobs has put a lot of effort into it. And it wasn't just his idea, either.

"We try to point out to each individual how they can improve, and this is something that we thought that Brandon could improve upon," Tom Coughlin said. "He felt the same way."

With a young group of receivers, none of whom has established himself as the new go-to guy, it stands to reason that the running backs will become a bigger part of the passing game. If the receivers can't always get open - and just yet there isn't that player who can consistently beat coverages the way Plaxico Burress did - then Manning will have no choice but to turn to the safety valves in the flanks.

Giants videos

The focus on the running backs is to replace Derrick Ward's 1,025 rushing yards last season. Just as important may be replacing his 41 receptions for 384 yards.

"When it becomes another factor in your offense in terms of your ability to go to the running back, you can be much more effective," Coughlin said. "It doesn't take a lot."

Notes & quotes: Coughlin said DT Rocky Bernard (hamstring) is expected to begin working on a limited basis this week, which would require him to be taken off the non-football injury list . . . RB Andre Brown had successful surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles tendon Tuesday . . . CBs Corey Webster (hip) and Aaron Ross (leg) will ease back into practices this week. "We're not free to turn them loose, but we are going to start out with the individuals and perhaps a little bit of team and see where we are," Coughlin said . . . WR Steve Smith (knee) will return to practice Wednesday.