Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Giants warms up before...

Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Giants warms up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 12, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Rich Schultz

Once upon a time in the NFL, relying on rookies in a big early-season game would have been viewed as risky at best and foolhardy by most.

Yet there was timeless Giants coach Tom Coughlin, as old- school as they come, faced Sunday night with an NFC East matchup -- on the road! -- with all three draft picks on offense set to play key roles against the Eagles.

Andre Williams started at running back for the injured Rashad Jennings. Weston Richburg started at guard.

And first-round choice Odell Beckham Jr., having scored a key touchdown in his NFL debut at receiver last week, was itching for more.

All three have received prominent mention in the NFL Network series about the Giants' scouting department, "Finding Giants," but Sunday night was no reality show.

Making a splash on NBC and against the Eagles at the Linc was a tad more high-profile than that.

"This day and age in professional football, they have got to help early; that is the whole deal for us," Coughlin said Wednesday of his rookies. "I think the nature of our game is you only have them for a short amount of time, so they have to make a contribution."

Coughlin acknowledged leaning on veterans still "is the ideal. It doesn't always happen that way, as you know."

No, it does not.

Concerned, Victor Cruz?

"I'm not concerned; I think these guys understand the role that they play," he said Wednesday. "They're a talented crew we have that will be playing as rookies. And I think they get it. I think they understand exactly what their role is."

Jennings said the veterans must be supportive as the season unfolds and the rookies continue to evolve.

"As a veteran, it's your job to minimize that pressure and show them the facts of the game," he said. "If you can eliminate that cloud of peer noise and remind them they're just playing football and cheer them, pat them on the back, correct them with some love, that's how you get a team.

"Pull the best out of somebody and remind them of the reasons why they want to play this game instead of forcing the reasons why you believe they should, and you'll get the best out of them."

No newcomer was more in the spotlight entering the game than Williams, a fourth-round pick out of Boston College who in the two games before facing the Eagles had rushed 35 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

If anyone on the team was concerned about him playing a bigger part until Jennings returns from a knee injury, he did a good job faking it.

Cruz's advice to Williams?

"Just keep doing what he's doing, man. He doesn't need any added pressure on himself. Just go in there and run the football the way he's been taught to do and he's been born to do, in my opinion."

Williams betrayed no doubts about his readiness and ability leading up to the game, insisting he was "absolutely" prepared to carry a larger load.

What did he think the Giants were expecting from him? "I only know one way to run, so I'm just going to run hard and compete at the highest level," he said.

Said Coughlin: "We expect him to be what he was a week ago: a downhill, north-south runner, which is what he does very, very well."

Williams said there has been a "learning curve" adjusting to the pros but that the likes of Jennings and the coaching staff have helped.

It also presumably helps to have others going through the same thing. Asked whether there is "class pride" among the rookies, Williams said: "I'd definitely say there's a camaraderie when we're all on the field. We definitely feel a sense of pride, I guess you can call it, that we're out here and able to contribute at an early stage of our careers."

Before offensive tackle Justin Pugh last season, the last Giants rookie to start all 16 games was Chris Snee in 2004.

Regardless of Sunday night's outcome, assuming the rookies stay healthy, there is no end in sight to their importance.

"We have a great group of young men coming into this team," Jennings said, "and we're happy to see them grow and be beside them and kind of show them the way."

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