By Tom Rock
Twice this week, Pat Shurmur has compared Rhett Ellison to Mark Bavaro.
“I’m sure my dad is not happy about it,” Ellison said.
That’s because one of Bavaro’s iconic moments as a Giant was when he dragged a number of 49ers defenders down the field, refusing to be brought down. Ellison’s father, former NFL linebacker Riki Ellison, was one of those along for the ride.
But there’s another reason why Ellison wasn’t buying the comparison. On the field, it’s just not accurate.
“I think that was mostly a mentality thing,” Ellison said sheepishly at being spoken of in the same breath as one of the greatest tight ends in Giants history and one of the franchise’s most popular players. “Yeah. He plays a little different.”
Ellison has enough self-awareness to understand what he can and cannot do on the field, how he is best used and what his limitations are. So when it comes to filling in for Evan Engram in the Giants’ offense for the next few weeks, he isn’t trying to replace the young speedster who has more receiving yards in his first 17 career games than Ellison has in his six-plus seasons in the NFL (and almost as many catches).
He’s just trying to be himself, but now that simple task will take on an increased importance. “We’re two very different players, so there are a lot of things that I can’t do that Evan did,” Ellison said. “I think we’re just kind of counting on Shurmur to put me in the right situations when the time is called.”
Said Shurmur: “There’s a few little things that you would only do with Evan in there, then there’s other things that we’ll do with Rhett in there. We just tweak it.”
Engram will miss the next few games with an MCL sprain in his right knee. He has been in the meeting rooms, though. He’s been in the ear of rookie Garrett Dickerson, just promoted from the practice squad to fill out the position on the roster. He even has been giving advice to Ellison. “I’m acting like a little vet,” Engram said, smirking.
Ellison has no problem turning to a player much less experienced than he is for teaching moments.
“Any time we talk about coverage, especially now, I’m like, ‘Hey, what you do against this guy?’ or ‘How would you run this route?’ ” Ellison said. “He sees that as opposed to me in my career where I’ve been mostly focused on the blocks. He can show me or teach me certain things when you are outside of the box . . . He’s been very helpful with that stuff.”
The Giants may use three receivers on plays more often than they did in the first three games to help replace Engram’s production, but there will be times when Ellison does have to play a larger role than usual in the passing game.
Odell Beckham Jr. calls Ellison “Mr. Consistency.”
“It seems like he’s always in the right place at the right time, always making plays,” he said.
Added Engram: “A lot of people sleep on Rhett. The dude is a really good athlete and makes plays in the passing game, too. He was moving on some plays on Sunday and I expect him to have a big game on Sunday.”
He’s already done it. He caught a touchdown pass from Eli Manning against the Texans after Engram left the game.
It helps that Shurmur has a familiarity with Ellison. They were together with the Vikings before Ellison came to the Giants last season and Shurmur arrived this year. “I’m fond of Rhett, who he is as a player and as a person,” Shurmur said. “ . . . He’s very good at what he does, he can line up anywhere, he finds a way to make plays. Some guys just have a knack for that.”
Such as, he said, Bavaro.
“I sensed the same kind of aura when I met [Bavaro] the other night,” Shurmur said. “Just a tough guy that’s going to do what he’s asked and let the chips fall.”
Who wouldn’t want to be compared to that?