About 50 of Wan’Dale Robinson’s family members are traveling to Nashville’s Nissan Stadium for the Giants wide receiver’s NFL debut on Sunday.
The drive is only three hours from Robinson’s hometown of Frankfort, Ky., and since he played at both Nebraska and Kentucky in college, his family already has plenty of red and blue gear to wear at his Giants’ season opener against the Tennessee Titans.
“My dad, he tells me all the time: It’s the same game I’ve been playing since I was five years old,” Robinson, 21, said Friday. “I don’t really wanna try to make too much out of it, even though I am a rookie. But I do wanna go out there and make sure I’m proving myself and proving there’s a reason I’m here and playing.”
Robinson will be a fascinating player to follow this season, and not just because he is fast, quick and dynamic.
His second-round draft selection, his skill set, and his usage in the Giants’ offense are also a window into the type of player and talent that GM Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll have prioritized in their long-term rebuild of this roster.
“Versatile,” Robinson said, describing his defining trait. “I feel like I can do everything on a football field that you need out of a skill player, whether that means take handoffs, catch passes down the field, catch screen passes, jet sweeps.”
Robinson will do all of those things in Mike Kafka’s offense. The 5-8, 185-pound speedster will go in motion often. He will line up in the backfield occasionally. And it will change every week with how Daboll and Kafka believe they can exploit a defense.
“I know for us in a game plan, I’m gonna have to do a lot of different things each and every week,” Robinson said. “And it won’t really be the same things I did the [previous] week. So I gotta be on my toes and be ready for everything.”
The Giants drafted Robinson not just because he has the physical traits to do those things, but also because he is mature and mentally dedicated enough to handle it.
“There’s obvious things he may have a question on, but for the most part he’s got everything down pat,” veteran Sterling Shepard said of Robinson on Friday. “He’s learned the offense and knows what the coach wants, and you don’t see that too many times out of a rookie. Most of the time they’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and I haven’t seen that out of Wan’Dale.”
One of this offense’s defining elements, the Giants hope, will be their speed and mismatches created by their personnel deployment.
Saquon Barkley might line up in the slot on one play, for example, with Matt Breida at running back behind Daniel Jones, and Robinson crossing the formation in motion at full speed at the snap.
The idea is to move the defense’s eyes, keep them guessing, and give whatever skill player touches the ball a split-second head start — or better yet, a mismatch with a defender.
“Huge advantage,” Breida said Friday of him and Barkley being on the field at the same time. “We can create mismatches, especially when they put linebackers on us. I feel like we’re more athletic than most linebackers.”
Robinson could be one of the keys to unlocking a more exciting and productive Giants offense. He’ll definitely be a major part of this team’s future.
He said he’s not nervous. But he granted that there might be one moment, trotting out for that first offensive series, when it will hit him. Then it will be back to business.
“Not yet,” he said, smiling, of any butterflies. “None right now. But we’re getting closer and closer.”
THIBODEAUX, OJULARI DOUBTFUL
Edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux (sprained right MCL) and Azeez Ojulari (right calf) officially are listed as doubtful for Sunday’s opener. Thibodeaux’s extremely limited practice load appeared to indicate he is not playing. Ojulari seemed a bit further along but was still limited.
Daboll said the team could end up taking some player statuses up until a pre-game workout. That could be the case for either Ojulari or rookie safety Dane Belton (broken collarbone), who is listed as questionable. The coach said Belton was cleared for contact and only wearing a red jersey in practice as a precaution.
Edge Quincy Roche is expected to be elevated from the practice squad. Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines project as the starters on the edge. Safety Tony Jefferson and corner Fabian Moreau are candidates to be elevated, as well.
Breida and corner Nick McCloud project as the starting gunners on the punt coverage team. Breida, a sixth-year vet, has never played the gunner position in an NFL regular season game. He said the last time he played it was his rookie preseason with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017.
But two or three weeks ago, the coaching staff discussed it and tried the speedy Breida there. He’s eager for the new role. “They feel I can play a lot of different positions,” he said. “They consider me versatile enough to do that.”
McCloud (Bills) and safety Jason Pinnock (Jets) no doubt were claimed off waivers on Aug. 31 with an eye on special teams. Pinnock also projects to factor there for Thomas McGaughey’s unit.
Multiple players were working at the return spots Friday, but it does appear that Richie James is the lead punt returner and Gary Brightwell is the kick returner, as the depth chart indicates — at least to start.
OFF THE FIELD
The Giants were on the schedule to practice 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. on Friday. They finished at roughly 2:05 p.m. Tuesday, 2:15 p.m. Wednesday and 1:05 p.m. Friday, give or take a few minutes. It is unclear how long they practiced on Monday, a session closed to the media.
Daboll was asked if shorter practices will be common this season or if it was just his Week 1 plan. He said this is how they did it with the Buffalo Bills, and the schedule works.
“It just depends on how we’re practicing in the team periods,” Daboll said. “I always allot for a little more time in case we need to redo a play or have a repeat. But the schedule that we use is really consistent with where I was the last four years. It’s been a good schedule for the players.”
The Saints signed offensive guard Wyatt Davis off the Giants’ practice squad to New Orleans’ active roster. Schoen had signed Davis to New York’s practice squad on Sept. 1. The Giants also re-signed offensive tackle Roy Mbaeteka to their practice squad to continue his development.
SCHOEN ON THE ROAD
It wouldn’t be a shock if Schoen and many other NFL GMs showed up in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday night to watch QB prospects Will Levis (Kentucky) and Anthony Richardson (Florida) go head to head.