Kalif Raymond may not be a well-known name, but he was starting to develop a reputation in NFL circles. And not a good one, either.
The wide receiver and return man was becoming known as someone who could not be trusted with the football in his hands. He was waived by the Jets in 2017 after fumbling three returns in two games, and after coming to the Giants lost his job as the main returner after a pair of fumbles.
So Raymond knew what he needed to work on this offseason, and he made an investment in himself.
He bought a Juggs machine.
It’s basically a pitching machine but for throwing footballs, and each day during the offseason he would go out and catch ball after ball for two hours. The first hour would be punts and kickoffs, the second hour offensive passes. He made up his mind to re-focus on the essential element of his profession: Catching.
So far this summer, he’s getting a return on his investment. He’s looked sharp in training camp with the Giants, hauling in just about everything that has come his way, and even saw some reps with the first team at wide receiver last week.
“I’m trusting the work that I put in,” he said. “The best thing I can do is just stick my hands out there. I put in so much work I’m going to trust my hands to catch it… When I’m out there I’m not thinking. I’m just trusting my hands and throwing them out there.”
On this team in particular, that skill is valued. Pat Shurmur has made it clear he has little tolerance for putting the ball on the ground.
“I’m very fond of any player that can catch,” he said.
Raymond spends time after practices working with the team’s Juggs machine in training camp. It’s a little different than the workouts he put himself through in the offseason, though. Back then, he would catch passes and on every third pass he would turn around and run.
“Whenever I was at my most tired we’d shoot a deep one,” he said. “It would force me to go get it, force me to open up, this way even though I’m tired I’m still digging.”
That’s paid off this training camp too. He’s tracked down deep passes from backup quarterback Davis Webb that seemed as if they were overthrown. Raymond will haul them in, trot back, and sometimes do it again.
“There have been a few times where I was gassed but I already have it mentally ingrained that it’s still coming to me,” he said. “I’m a receiver and a returner so there are two things I need to be able to do: Run forever and be able to catch as many footballs as I can. I paid a lot of attention to that and it’s helping out right now.”
If the top of the Giants’ wide receiver depth chart remains the way it is – and everyone in the organization hopes it does, unlike last season – then Raymond will have to earn his roster spot on special teams. He’s competing against players such as Amba Etta-Tawo and Hunter Sharp for a job on the 53-man roster.
“There’s going to be guys that make this team just because they’re fourth-down players,” Shurmur said.
Raymond wants to be an every-down player. He’s entering his third NFL season out of Holy Cross and has one career reception, a catch he made last year with the Giants. He’ll likely get plenty of opportunities in the preseason games that begin this week. It will give him a chance to test his newly refined skills against another team in a more competitive environment.
“I’m really excited,” Raymond said of the games. “I put in a lot of work and camp is going good. They say you play the way you practice. If I’m practicing like this, I can’t wait to see how I play.”