Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) is hit by Pittsburgh...

Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) in the first quarter of a preseason NFL game, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: AP / Bill Kostroun

Not long after producing a 73-yard touchdown that gave the Giants at least some measure of consolation that the running game can flourish despite David Wilson's retirement announcement last week, Rashad Jennings paid tribute to his teammate.

"David is unique. David is special. There is no replacing David Wilson," said Jennings, who signed a four-year, $10-million free-agent contract in the offseason. "He'll be missed -- his personality, as a player, as talented and diverse as he is. He'll always be a Giant, but I will never, ever hesitate to say that there is no replacing David Wilson."

Jennings will be the one to shoulder the load in Wilson's absence, and he showed why general manager Jerry Reese was correct in loading up at running back in the offseason.

It was smart thinking, especially in a league in which injuries can change your lineup. Given Wilson's uncertain situation, Reese replenished his backfield by signing Jennings, 29. He had a solid year for the Raiders in 2013 with 733 yards and a 4.5-yard average.

Reese also dipped into the draft, spending a fourth-round pick on the nation's leading rusher, Andre Williams of Boston College, who ran for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns.

The Giants' two newest running backs have been among the team's best players in training camp and the preseason. Williams led the Giants with seven carries for 48 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday night's Hall of Fame Game in Canton. Jennings was the star of Saturday night's 20-16 win over the Steelers, turning a routine run up the middle into an electrifying touchdown in the first quarter. After bursting through a hole, he outraced the Steelers' defense into the end zone, veering to his right to avoid the final would-be tackler.

"The offensive line made great blocks, the receivers made great blocks down the field, and we were able to get an explosive play and put points on the board," Jennings said.

Williams turned in another solid effort in relief of Jennings, rushing for 35 yards on seven carries in the second quarter. If a holding penalty had not wiped out a 10-yard run, his stats would have looked even better.

It's little consolation after the loss of Wilson, but in a league in which you can't have enough playmakers, the Giants have reason to believe they'll be functional in the running game. And if that's the case, it will be a boost to Eli Manning.

Even when Manning has played his best, he didn't have the benefit of a strong running attack. Consider: In 2011, the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl, they were ranked 32nd -- dead last -- in rushing during the regular season. Last year, they were 29th, averaging only 83.2 yards per game. The Eagles -- at 160.4 -- were nearly twice as good on the ground.

So much has been made of Manning's adjustment to new coordinator Ben McAdoo's West Coast offense, but the running game can't be ignored. The better the Giants run, the better the chances that Manning can navigate a tricky system that is so nuanced that even the game's most accomplished quarterbacks struggle to master it.

Look at the great West Coast offenses and yes, you'll see great quarterbacks -- Hall of Famers such as Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre and Canton-bound Aaron Rodgers. But those offenses also featured terrific runners in Roger Craig, Ricky Watters and Ahman Green.

The Giants don't know if Jennings or Williams will be up to the level of their West Coast predecessors, but they have done everything asked of them so far. Less than a week after finding out they won't have Wilson, at least they can look ahead with some optimism.