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Sun, Feb 7, 2016

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Giants need better running game, and Wilson could be their man

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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'They want me to do the whole nine. So I'm going to do the whole 10 ...,' Wilson says. (US Presswire)  
'They want me to do the whole nine. So I'm going to do the whole 10 ...,' Wilson says. (US Presswire)  

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets talk about returning to "Ground and Pound," but it's the New York Giants who are doing something about it -- and what they're doing is there for everyone to see at this weekend's rookie mini-camp.

I'm talking about schooling first-round draft choice David Wilson, the successor to Brandon Jacobs and a running back who could, if he's what the Giants believe he is, return an effective rushing attack to at least one New York-area team.

At 5-feet-10, 205 pounds, Wilson is no Brandon Jacobs. But he is fast and explosive. He runs through tackles. He's tough to bring down. And he can catch the football. In short, he might be just what the Giants need to resuscitate the league's 32nd-ranked running game that didn't wake up until it was nearly too late last season.

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But look at the club's last six games -- all victories -- and you'll find the team that averaged 82.3 yards rushing per start before produced 114.5 per game then.

Connect the dots. The Giants did when they made Wilson their first-round draft choice, finding a combination of value and need at the 32nd overall position.

"What you see with David is what you get," said rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley. "He's a smart guy who is very enthusiastic and talented. He's athletic, with speed, and a good person and player overall. Plus, he has good hands coming out of the backfield and can be a receiver coming out of the slot."

Hosley should know. He played with Wilson at Virginia Tech and roomed with him their freshman season. Now they're teammates on the Super Bowl champions, and both should make the team. But it's Wilson who fills the more urgent need, replacing Jacobs after the veteran running back left for San Francisco.

Jacobs brought an attitude and toughness to the field, but he couldn't grind out the tough yards that made him and past Giants' teams so effective. So the Giants, in effect, swapped out Jacobs for Wilson and believe they got the better end of the deal.

"They want me to do everything," said Wilson after Friday morning's practice. "They want me to do the 'whole nine.' So I'm going to do the 'whole 10' and get the first down."

Now, we're talking.

Too often last season no back was getting the first down. The Giants produced 100 yards rushing in only four of their first 11 starts and failed to run for a score in five of those contests. Result: They won one more game (6) than they lost. But once they did what the Jets did in 2009-10 -- namely, grind up opponents with an effective rushing attack -- their fortunes changed, with the Giants dropping just one of their last eight starts.

Some of that had to do with the return of Ahmad Bradshaw, who missed four straight games in mid-season with a foot injury, but most of it had to do with a rushing attack that suddenly pushed back opponents and that, along with a relentless pass rush, helped deliver the Giants their second Lombardi Trophy in four years.

With Jacobs gone and Bradshaw returning from foot surgery, the Giants need help at a critical position -- which is why they spent their first-round draft pick on a running back who last season set a school record with 1,709 yards rushing, scored nine times and caught 21 passes.

If there's a knock on the guy, it's that he fumbles too often -- but that's an issue coaches can handle. They did it with Tiki Barber. They did it with Bradshaw. And I have no doubt they'll do it with David Wilson.

He'll also have to work on his pass protection, but that's part of the process for almost any rookie. As one scout told me, "I don't know one running back who blocks out of a two-point stance. They just push and shove," which is another way of saying it's an occupational hazard for first-year backs.

It's an acquired skill, and Wilson will have to acquire it.

"It's not like weird or scary," Wilson said of jumping to the NFL champions. "It's more like a good thing, and [a feeling of] let me be on this team because they're successful, and I want to be successful. They're guys just like me. They work hard at what they're doing, and they want to be the best at what they're doing. Guys can get drafted where ever, but it's about what you do when you get here -- not how you got here."

I know one thing Wilson can do, which is a lot of back flips without stopping. I watched one YouTube video where he did 13 in succession. Then I saw another where he did 21. Wilson said he's been doing them since the age of 3 when he started in his backyard, and I know what you're thinking: So what? So the last rookie around here who did 13 back flips was defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and I'd say he worked out OK.

"The 13 he did was with his hands," said Wilson, laughing. "The 13 I did was with no hands. He plays D-end, so you get the credit. That's why I had to make sure I did 21 and not 13 or 14."

David Wilson will get a lot of credit if he can help restore the Giants' running game. One guy can't carry this attack, and I'm not talking about Bradshaw. I'm talking about Eli Manning, who tried last season and floundered until the running game perked up. Now the Giants have Wilson, Bradshaw, D. J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott, who demonstrated big-play ability in the preseason last year but seemed to get buried once the games counted.

"I'd like to pick up where I left off, but that rarely happens," said Wilson. "When you look at rookies they always have that transition period. I just want to be on the field, go out there and compete and contribute to the team in some way."

Trust me, he'll get that chance. The Giants need something, anything, to revive their running game, and David Wilson could be the solution.

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