Jerome Cunningham jumps to starting TE in Giants practice
When the Giants offense took the field for the first day of practice on Friday, it was undoubtedly a source of comfort for those watching to see familiarity at key spots. Eli Manning was behind center, Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. were getting their reps, and the offensive line was just as the Giants had left it in the spring.
But who the heck was that at tight end?
Unless you are the kind of fan who reads the fine print of the practice squad or keeps track of the minor transactions, you probably have no idea who Jerome Cunningham is. Well, on Friday, he was the starting tight end. And while that might have been a surprise to many, it was not one to him.
"You always prepare yourself as though you are going to be there," he said on Saturday. "I always envisioned myself being there. It was never a shock. I was fully prepared.
"You have to know all of the plays anyway," he added, "so you might as well be prepared."
Cunningham had a solid spring, which catapulted him to the top of the depth chart for the first workout. With Larry Donnell coming off an Achilles injury in OTAs and no firmly entrenched starter at the position - really no firmly entrenched roster spot at the position - there is a wide open competition to be the team's starting tight end not only on opening day of camp, but opening day of the season.
That could be Cunningham, who played at Southern Connecticut State, spent most of 2014 on the Giants' practice squad (he was signed to the active roster but did not play in any games in late December), and is ready to make a splash. Especially as a receiver.
"I feel as though it's hard for defenses to stop me," he said. "I feel confident that I put so much training and effort into my explosiveness and my hands this offseason that it's going to be tough for defenses to stop me."
Cunningham may have earned first-team reps on the first day of camp, but he also lost his number. He was 49 as a practice-squadder last year and spent the spring as 89, but when the Giants signed receiver James Jones Cunningham relinquished the number to the veteran. He switched to 86, which was his number in college.
"He's a vet, he's earned it, and I'm still fighting for a spot," Cunningham said. "Hopefully this is my last number change. I'll keep the 86."
It'll at least allow people to recognize him moving forward.