Shane Smith sits atop the depth chart at his position, was on the field for the first play of the preseason, and made a pretty good impression when one of his blocks knocked the helmet off an opponent in the game against the Steelers. He even caught the first completed pass of the preseason by the Giants, a 9-yarder from Josh Johnson.
Not bad for an undrafted rookie.
But the fullback has another obstacle to climb besides just winning his position battle. He also has to convince the Giants that they actually need his position.
The team went without a fullback last year and this offseason they brought in free-agent tight end Rhett Ellison, who has experience in that job from his days blocking for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. A true dedicated fullback is a luxury the Giants may not have on their 53-man roster.
So Smith needs to find other ways to make the squad.
“A fullback is lucky to get 20 percent of the plays, so you have to contribute enough on special teams to where the team really wants to keep you,” Smith said on Monday.
Luckily for him he spent a lot of time in college doing that. While most rookies come to their first NFL training camp having avoided special teams play for most of their college careers, Smith was a standout in those roles at San Jose State. He played on all four coverage and return teams there and has been doing so here with the Giants as well.
“I was all for it,” Smith said of doing the grunt work in college. “I knew that if I wanted to play in the NFL I’d have to play special teams. Just having the experience — I’ve played every position on punts — it’s easier having that versatility.”
The Giants are certainly giving Smith a chance to show what he can do. In Friday’s game he had eight snaps with the offense and nine on special teams.
“In the game I think I did a pretty good job,” Smith said.
Ben McAdoo seemed impressed by both Smith and Jacob Huesman, the other true fullback on the roster. Unlike Smith, Huesman is new to the role as a converted quarterback from Tennessee-Chattanooga. Smith made the change from linebacker to fullback after his redshirt freshman year in college.
“They’re doing a nice job,” McAdoo said. “Assignment-wise they’re making progress. Huesman did a nice job picking up a linebacker coming off the edge on a play-action pass today. They’re getting better at special teams each and every day. It’s a great competition.”
Just not a traditional one between two players, though. They’re both battling to make their dispensable position necessary on the Giants’ roster. That may be the toughest competition there is.