Most position battles are relatively meaningless developments until late July, when training camps begin and players focus on preparing for the upcoming season. Coaches deliberating position competitions usually consider each players’ entire body of work—career production, minicamp performance, injury history, work ethic, physical attributes, potential for growth—but the decision ultimately rests on a given players’ level of preparedness heading into week 1. Whichever player best exhibits the qualities needed at his position to help his team win when the regular season begins should get the nod over his competitors. It’s pretty simple. These predicaments exist on most every NFL roster and they are for the most part altogether good problems to have. Multiple players fighting for a single spot leads to intense competition, the kind that brings out the best and most consistent effort in each competitor. Even defending Super Bowl champions need to resolve these sorts of issues, and the 2012 Giants are no exception.
Question marks exist at linebacker, running back, cornerback and the offensive line (this is not an all-inclusive list), but perhaps the most anticipated position battle heading into training camp is for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham, who filled the No. 3 wideout spot last season but a signed two-year, $7.5 million deal with San Francisco in March, was a vital component of the offense. He ranked third on the team with 39 receptions and scored three postseason touchdowns. His successor, needless to say, will have trouble replicating Manningham’s consistency and overall importance to the offense. The good news is that there are plenty of options in the running to replace him, most notably Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan, Rueben Randle and Ramses Barden. It’s an interesting mix, and the competition could linger through the last preseason game. Far as I can tell, Randle appears to have the edge right now, with Hixon not far off, but all four remain viable competitors and no one has truly distanced himself from the competition.
If there’s one player slightly behind the rest, it’s Barden, though judging by his recent comments to Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, you’d be led to believe he has this competition all wrapped up. Here’s what Barden said when asked about his goals for the upcoming season:
“I’m here to be the man.”There are times when confidence—having full trust in your abilities and taking pride in anticipated accomplishments—manifests itself on the field in positive and productive ways, lifting and inspiring otherwise mediocre players to greater levels of performance. The less favorable outcome, when stated expectations surpass actual performance, is equally plausible, with drastic implications not only to a player’s individual goals but to his career reputation more broadly. Not making good on specified production benchmarks reflects poorly on your ability to meet expectations as much as it does your outsized bravado. An ego-trip gone is far worse than keeping quiet in the first place, a lesson learned in the most thoroughly excruciating way by Lebron James, who prior to winning an NBA title this season endured endless media and fan criticism over not advancing his promised goal of “not one, not two, not three….” championships. Eli Manning, who last preseason caused quite a stir when he called himself an “elite” quarterback, fulfilled his promise with a second Super Bowl championship. Manning’s statement was a measured, self-assured assessment of his abilities, a description now unmistakably abounding in reality.
“Plain and simple,” he adds. “There’s no explanation needed.”
Ramses Barden’s proclamation, much less significant, to be sure, is a bold one, and to this point lacks merit, not only because of the fierce competition at the No. 3 receiver spot he faces in Jernigan, Randle and Hixon but because of his career struggles. For years Barden has been tagged a potential breakout player, with countless tales of practice highlights and immense potential for future greatness bolstering his reputation. The 6-6, 224-pound receiver has just three multi-reception games and 15 total receptions in his three-year career. While most third-round picks don’t wield huge expectations upon entering the league, there were high hopes for Barden when the Giants drafted him thanks to an impressive college career filled with eye-grabbing highlight catches and evidence of NFL viability. Now three years into his pro career, calling Barden’s performance a disappointment would be grossly underestimating the truth, even more so given his reputation as one of Big Blue’s most consistent and best practice players.
Performing well in practice environments is generally a good thing. Coaches like it, and it gives the media something to talk about. For Barden, though, his success in pressure-free environments makes his ineptitude in both regular and postseason games all the more confounding, if only for the reason that fans, coaches and teammates expect more from a player who in practice regularly offers evidence suggesting a better brand of performance. Until Barden can channel his practice success into games that count, his proclamations ring hollow. He will be “the man” when he proves he can be the man.