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How Shane Vereen may factor into the Giants' backfield

Giants running back Shane Vereen runs the ball

Giants running back Shane Vereen runs the ball during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J., on Friday, July 31, 2015. Credit: Brad Penner

CINCINNATI -- It was a simple play, really. A little screen pass to Shane Vereen. Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh out in front blocking. Every NFL team has it in their playbook.

But for a long time, the Giants have routinely fallen flat in executing it. That's why when it happened Tuesday in the first joint practice against the Bengals, it was a reason for the team to be optimistic.

"That's what we're looking for!" Vereen said enthusiastically when asked to recall that particular play on Wednesday. "We were able to get the screen going and pick up some good, key blocks. It worked out well. That's definitely something we would like to improve on. It's a confidence builder."

It's also one of the big reasons the Giants signed Vereen. They want a dual threat in their backfield, something they haven't had on a weekly basis since Tiki Barber retired. Vereen gives the Giants that kind of flexibility. And if Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz are occupying the attention of opposing defensive backs the way they should be, well, those short dump-offs to Vereen could turn into big plays.

That's not to say the Giants are ready to declare themselves screen-happy.

"I think it was a good play," Vereen said. "It looked like we could have gotten some yards on it. But it is practice. Hopefully it will transfer over to the games."

Vereen is used to being part of a running back rotation, as he was with the Patriots. Here with the Giants, he is expected to share snaps with Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. The Giants essentially have three Number Two running backs, but no Number One. The Patriots showed they can succeed like that. In fact, the last team to have the NFL's top rusher and win the Super Bowl in the same season was the 1998 Broncos behind Terrell Davis. Superstar backs and Lombardi trophies do not seem to go hand-in-hand.

"They have to prepare for different guys," Vereen said. "It's more on their plate and in a sense it's less on our plate. You know what you're going in for and how to prepare yourself for each role."

What Vereen isn't sure about yet is exactly how the labor will be divided. In New England, it was a week-to-week situation. Depending on the gameplan and the opponent, Bill Belichick would decide which running back he would be relying on for that particular game. With the Giants, the expectation is that the rotation will be based more on feel and the flow of a particular contest rather than going into them as a "Vereen Game" or a "Jennings Game."

"It's hard to tell," Vereen said. "I guess we'll have to wait and see how they do it. I still haven't played my first game. But I'm excited to see how it turns out, I'm excited to see everybody play, I'm excited to see the other running backs go out and do a great job as well. We'll see how the group really starts to shape and form."

And if they can finally start running successful screen plays too.

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