Who’s going to replace Mario Manningham in the Giants’ wide receiver corps? Jerrel Jernigan had his hand up before the question was even asked.
The 2011 draft pick said he is going into his second NFL season as if the job of being the team’s No. 3 receiver is his. He knows there is still a lot of time until that title is officially passed to him, but for now, he’s claiming it … at least in his own mind.
“That’s how I’m going into OTAs and the whole offseason approach, like I’m the number 3 receiver,” he told Newsday. “But we have other guys coming back. We have Domenik Hixon coming back and we also have Ramses Barden there. Coach will do the evaluation in the offseason and during camp and stuff so we’ll see. But I’m approaching it like I’m the third receiver.”
He very well might end up there when the 2012 season starts. The Giants have lost Manningham to free agency – he has agreed to a two-year deal with the 49ers – and need someone to ride alongside Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz and catch passes from Eli Manning. Jernigan was the player that both Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese mentioned at the Combine last month when asked about the potential loss of Manningham.
“We drafted Jernigan in the third round,” Reese said, “so we expect him to make the jump.”
Jernigan’s only question: How high?
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “Me and Mario were good friends when he was here, he taught me a lot of things, but it’s pretty much a business now and I’m thankful for the opportunity to go out there and show everybody what I can do. I’m thankful that Coach Coughlin and Jerry Reese are giving me an opportunity to step up to the plate and be the next man.”
He was the fourth or fifth receiver for the Giants last year, as well as their primary kickoff return man. Late in the season he jumped over Barden to get a few offensive snaps. He never caught a pass in a game – he had the same number of receptions in his rookie year that Cruz had in his -- but said practicing with Manning was enough to build the foundations of a chemistry.
“We all put in time with him so it’s not like he just keyed in on a couple of guys,” Jernigan said. “We all go with Eli and he throws to all of us. That won’t be a problem.”
Jernigan is working at Troy, his alma mater, on refining his breaks and route running this offseason. He’s also scheduled to meet up with Manning at some point this offseason in North Carolina, he said. But the biggest thing Jernigan gets this year is an offseason with the team. Last year, because of the lockout, he showed up for training camp and was flung into the deep end of a complicated offense.
“It would have helped me to come in and actually learn the playbook,” he said. “Midway through the season I would say I was just getting into the playbook and learning it. This being my first offseason, I think I’ll have an advantage to come in and be the third receiver.”