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 Receiver Learns Roles, but Hasn’t Found One

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ngdaubiet
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PostSubject: Receiver Learns Roles, but Hasn’t Found One   Mon Oct 31, 2011 7:47 am

Over the past two seasons, Ramses Barden has been Hakeem Nicks. He has also been Mario Manningham, Steve Smith and, on occasion, Domenik Hixon.

It is not that Barden, the Giants’ third-year wide receiver, endured some kind of identity crisis; he just had little choice. With injuries limiting him to nine games since the Giants drafted him in 2009, Barden took up residence in the wide receivers’ meeting room. He watched film with other receivers, reviewed their routes and learned the opponents’ coverages but rarely saw himself on the screen. So he simply imagined himself as someone else.

“I’ve been everyone,” Barden said last week. “I’m watching for tendencies, watching to learn how to predict what’s going to happen. Watching the read. And then I look at what Hakeem or Mario or someone else did, and I say: What would I do if I was this guy here? How would I adjust? How would I have caught the ball?”

After completing his first week of practice this season, Barden had hoped to make his season debut Sunday against Miami at MetLife Stadium, but that appears unlikely. As a rookie, he played in three games and failed to distinguish himself; he played in six more before breaking his ankle and sustaining ligament damage last November against Dallas. Before last week, he spent most of the time during Giants practices working out on a side field, running and cutting around cones by himself.

The lack of action (let alone production) has led to a mysterious — if somewhat disappointing — aura around Barden, who is 6 feet 6 inches and came to the Giants after an impressive career at Cal Poly. This summer, Coach Tom Coughlin expressed frustration with Barden’s slow progress, saying to reporters, “Barden, get out there, for crying out loud.”

Coughlin’s emotion probably stems from Barden’s tantalizing potential. In college, Barden broke Jerry Rice’s Football Championship Subdivision record by catching a touchdown pass in 32 consecutive games. He finished with 50 touchdown receptions, making him one of three F.C.S. players — Rice is another — to reach that number for a career.

“He was a game-changer,” his Cal Poly coach, Rich Ellerson, who is now the coach at Army, said in a telephone interview. “We were an option team, a running team, but the story of the game was the wide receiver.”

Andy Guyader, who was the receivers coach at Cal Poly and went with Ellerson to Army, said he recalled that Barden made a series of one-handed catches during his senior season, showing off his wingspan.

“He had the ability to just go get it,” Guyader said. “You just had to get the ball near him.”

The Giants, of course, used to have a receiver like that, and from the moment he was drafted, Barden was compared to Plaxico Burress. Even now, with Burress nearly three years removed from the Giants, Barden still encounters fans who expect him to be another Burress, who caught the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLII.

“I consider myself a complete player,” Barden said. “I love the fact that they compare me to someone who made a tremendous impact on this franchise, but I want to take what he’s done here and add it to what I can do.”

Barden’s high school coach in La Canada, Calif., Marty Konrad, knows what he can do.

“Our famous comment of 2003 was, ‘Just throw it up to Barden,’ ” Konrad said. “That was our go-to call when we needed something.”

He understands the comparison to Burress but believes it is incomplete. Although Barden and Burress have similar physiques, Konrad said Barden has always been more than just tall.

After being persuaded to play football as a high school sophomore (he was a basketball star), Barden embraced the fundamentals of being a receiver, Konrad said, working tirelessly to perfect his route-running. In college, Guyader said, Cal Poly ran only about 15 offensive plays, so Barden focused on other players’ responsibilities while watching film, trying to understand what was happening on any given play.

After a Giants practice last week, Barden offered a short thesis to reporters on the future of the slot receiver position, postulating that five years from now, teams will frequently use bigger players like him in the slot as opposed to the shorter, speedier players like Wes Welker who generally play the position now.

Barden is familiar with the slot, having played the position at times last season. No receiver claimed the spot when Smith left, so Barden could be used there once he is activated.

“One of his greatest tools is he is a smart player,” Sean Ryan, the receivers coach, said. “What that gives you is the availability to move him around. He can play all four spots.”

Last week, however, Barden spent much practice time on the scout team. Preparing to face the Dolphins, the coaching staff had Barden simulate the movements and patterns of Miami’s Brandon Marshall, a 6-4 receiver.

Barden would prefer to take snaps with the starting offense, but it was a familiar assignment. After all, he had spent much of the last two years imagining he was someone else. Soon enough, he hopes the Giants will be happy when he can just be himself.

“There’s no room for frustration,” he said. “You spend time wallowing in your own pity, you’re never going to grow. I had a tough road last year with the injury, especially when I started to get into a good rhythm. But that rhythm will come back. There’s a lot of football ahead of me and a lot of plays to be made.”


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