EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Paul Perkins made just one start last season, but he was impressive enough that Giants head coach Ben McAdoo didn't even wait for spring practices to start to name the 22-year-old the new starting running back. Perkins was understandably glad to hear that.
And then he went back to work.
"I was excited. At the same time I was competing," the second-year running back said on Friday, as the Giants closed their organized team activity (OTA) sessions. "I have to compete throughout the whole OTAs, minicamp, training camp, because I'm the starter right now but it could change by any time. I have to keep up my performance and keep playing hard."
That's a refreshing approach for the fifth-round pick (2016) out of UCLA, even though the truth is he doesn't have much competition for his job. Shane Vereen is the Giants' third-down back and isn't likely to be considered for an every-down role. Veteran Shaun Droughn was brought in for veteran insurance, and while Orleans Darkwa has been impressive in limited action, Perkins' breakaway speed and college resume put him in a different class.
That was apparent last year, when he broke off a dazzling, 67-yard run after a catch in just his second NFL game and gained an effective 4.1 yards per rush on his 112 carries. After spending most of the season as a change-of-pace to now-departed starter Rashad Jennings, Perkins got his first start in the Giants' season finale.
He didn't disappoint, rushing 21 times for 102 yards.
When he looks back on his rookie season, though, he doesn't seem to see what McAdoo saw. The Giants coach saw a potential star in Perkins' 112 rushes for 456 yards and 15 catches for 162 yards.
Perkins saw only the beginning.
"I was OK," Perkins said. "It could've been better."
His coaches agree with that, and that he's off to a good start, too.
"What he's shown is that in our system, you need three phases," said Craig Johnson, the Giants running backs coach. "You have to be able to run the ball. He was an effective runner last year. You have to be able to catch the ball. He did a good job in that. And you have to be able to block people because they're going to try you out. I thought that he probably improved the most in that situation. Guys were testing him out to get to the quarterback and he held up very good in protection. He is continuing to do that."
Johnson said that if Perkins can do that, "it allows you to be a possible back on all three downs." That's not the plan. Vereen, coming off an injury-riddled season in which he tore his triceps twice, will almost certainly hit the field on third downs. But playing all three downs is still Perkins' goal.
"I just have to go out here and continue to work," he said. "That's the biggest thing."