Watching with Amani Toomer: Giants’ all-time great WR analyzes Jalin Hyatt, Darren Waller


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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It’s obvious that the New York Giants have upgraded their weapons — or as assistant general manager Brandon Brown calls them, “generators” — in the passing game this offseason.

It doesn’t take an expert to observe that rookie wide receiver Jalin Hyatt runs like a gazelle or that tight end Darren Waller is a matchup nightmare. But to get a deeper understanding of this group of receivers, The Athletic watched Tuesday’s practice with Amani Toomer.

The Giants’ career leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, Toomer is uniquely qualified to break down wide receiver play. Here’s what he observed — and taught — during Tuesday’s practice:

12:50 p.m.: As practice starts, Toomer distills his belief on what makes a good receiver.

“To me, being a receiver is how fast you can from go full speed in one direction, break down and go in the other direction,” Toomer says. “You create the separation when you stop and then you try to get up to full speed again. All this other stuff is all well and good, but can you do that? That’s a skill. That’s why receivers don’t have to be fast, per se, but the quicker receivers usually do well.”

As Toomer speaks, there’s a punt drill taking place on the field directly in front of him, while some wide receivers work on the far field. Toomer spots Hyatt making a one-handed catch while running an out route on the goal line and can’t hide his disapproval.

“He shouldn’t be practicing that because you’re not going to do that in a game,” Toomer says.

As Toomer is discussing the wide receivers, he notices the struggles of punt returner Eric Gray. The rookie muffed one punt as he drifted while tracking the ball and looked shaky fielding another.

“You need to get to the spot and then adjust,” says Toomer, who averaged 16.6 yards per punt return as a rookie in 1996. “You can’t be adjusting (on the move). You need to get to the spot and then take one or two steps when you’re catching punts.”

Toomer explains how a returner can tell which direction a punt will fall based on how the ball is rotating through the air. That’s a nuance of the position the Giants need Gray to master before he’s trusted to return punts in the swirling winds at MetLife Stadium.

1:08 p.m.: When the special teams period ends, players disperse to various sections of the three practice fields for positional drills. All of the wide receivers descend upon the far field, where they practice catching fade passes in the red zone.

Toomer emphasizes one of the finer points of catching fades and deep passes, which is the receiver positioning his body so that the ball lands over his outside shoulder. The benefits of this technique become glaringly apparent during team periods later in practice.

Toomer also critiques the way some of the receivers get in and out of their breaks. Some receivers lower their shoulders and lean forward as they prepare to make a cut, which Toomer views as a major route-running flaw.

“See how they’re dropping down a lot before they break? You’ve got to start lower so you don’t have to do that,” Toomer says. “That’s a stop sign for the defensive back. You’ve got to stay there and try to mimic like you’re accelerating. When you’re running into the break and your numbers get big (by getting upright), they know you’re stopping. But if you’re running and you get really small (by leaning forward), they know you’re stopping as well.  You’ve got to keep that forward lean consistent so they’re like, ‘What is he doing?’”

1:15 p.m.: As the individual period continues, Toomer explains the difficulty of transitioning from college to the NFL. An All-Big Ten receiver at Michigan, it took until Toomer’s fourth season with the Giants to break out with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

“In college, you’re just faster than everybody. You’re just quicker than people. You can just run by somebody,” Toomer says. “In the league, you have to get into the art of it. How do you make somebody think you’re doing something you’re not? How do you get somebody to open up their hips?”

As the receivers progress to catching passes from the quarterbacks, Parris Campbell slips while making a cut on a route.

“That was bad technique,” Toomer says. “If a receiver ever slips, it’s his fault. You should never slip. You should always be shoulders over your knees. Once you get outside of that, that’s when you slip. But if you stay in there, you’re never going to slip. You’ve always got to stay inside your frame.”

1:26 p.m.: The action picks up as offensive and defensive players converge for one-on-one drills. Toomer has a front-row seat as the wide receivers and defensive backs square off.

Wide receiver Darius Slayton makes a tough grab on a deep ball despite cornerback Deonte Banks contesting the catch. To the untrained eye, it looks like a nice play by Slayton. But to the member of the Giants Ring of Honor watching intently, Slayton could have made an easier play if he had done a better job shielding Banks from the ball by using the over-the-shoulder technique the receivers drilled earlier in practice. By catching the ball on his inside shoulder, Slayton gave Banks an opportunity to get his hand on the ball.

Hyatt got held by backup cornerback Zyon Gilbert on a route and stopped running.

“C’mon, man, you don’t stop! You can’t stop,” Toomer says. “He just got jammed. You can’t stop.”

Hyatt appeared to be dealing with some discomfort after the play, and Toomer noted the rookie laboring at various points throughout practice.

“I know the whirlwind it is to be a rookie,” Toomer says. “This is going to be one of the toughest seasons that he’s going to have. Mentally, he’s got to be ready for 18 weeks. That’s not easy.”

Waller created a world of separation on a post route against Banks. The tight end set up Banks to expect an out-breaking route and then smoothly cut back to the middle of the field for an easy catch.

“You see how quick he is?” Toomer says. “He set him up. When you’re behind him, you’re like, ‘Why’s he going this way?’ Then, ‘bam!’ He shouldn’t be moving like that at that size.”


Breaking down where the Giants stand at every position a week before cut day

1:34 p.m.: The entire team comes together for the first 11-on-11 period of practice. This is a run-heavy period, featuring almost no pass plays. Wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins makes a catch along the sideline on a rare pass after getting his jersey yanked by Banks.

“We’re fighting,” Toomer says. “Something’s happening. You trying to get me hurt? That’s uncalled for.”

In what has been a regular occurrence this summer, Hyatt gets behind the defense to catch a long touchdown pass from backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye jumped what he thought would be a short route when Hyatt feigned that he was going to make a break. Instead, Hyatt turned on the jets and easily got behind the corner. Hyatt sold the fake with the type of shoulder lean that Toomer said should be avoided.

“If you’re faking by doing that, then you should probably not do that when you’re actually breaking,” Toomer says.

Toomer explains that success with poor technique can be fool’s gold for a young player.

“That success sometimes prevents you from growing,” Toomer says. “You’re like, ‘I don’t need to do all that.’ Then it takes a really good coach to get through to somebody who’s having success to get them to that next level. You want to be like, ‘I’m good enough.’ No, you’re never good enough. You can always get better at something.”

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Darren Waller spent the past five seasons with the Raiders and had two 1,000-yard seasons. (Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

1:42 p.m.: Waller’s camp-long dominance continues Tuesday, as he catches a team-high four passes in practice. He has been a matchup problem for every defender he’s faced this summer.

“You’re going to have to put your best corner on him,” Toomer says.

Veteran wide receiver Jamison Crowder fails to corral a pass thrown behind him as he crosses the field after the quarterback starts to scramble. It would have been a tough grab, but Toomer demonstrates how Crowder could have given himself a better chance to make a play or draw a penalty by stopping and drawing contact from the defender. Instead, Crowder kept running and tried to reach back to make the catch.

A deep pass to Jaydon Mickens falls incomplete in another example of a receiver not putting his body in the best position to make the catch.

“He started fading toward the ball,” Toomer says. “You’ve got to cut him off and make sure the ball goes over (the outside shoulder) so that you can protect the ball. If you’re even and you’re both going for the ball to catch it inside, you give him an equal opportunity. But if you go for the ball outside, he can’t get to it. That’s what he should have done there.”

2:06 p.m.: A run-heavy practice limits the highlight-level plays for Toomer to analyze. But this type of practice illustrates a challenge of playing wide receiver.

“Being a receiver, half the time you’re doing nothing,” Toomer says. “Then all of the sudden, it’s, ‘Oh, you’ve got to make this play!’”

Practice finishes with the offense driving down the field against the defense. After advancing to the red zone, quarterback Daniel Jones hits Slayton on a slant for a touchdown.

“It’s a lot harder in the red zone because there’s just not a lot of real estate,” Toomer says. “So your technique has to be that much better. And the timing with the quarterback has to be on point or else it’s all going to get thrown off. They’re always going to be contested throws. They can bring a lot more heat, so you always have to be prepared for the blitz. You always have to be prepared for a lot more because everything happens quicker because there’s just less space.”

As Toomer departs, he reflects on what he’s seen from the Giants’ receivers.

“I think that they have a lot of talent,” Toomer says. “They have a lot of potential. I’m interested to see how Hyatt progresses. I want to see Slayton, Hodgins and Campbell do well. But there’s a lot of work to be done on the finer points of being a receiver. I feel like they’re well on their way. They’ve got a good coach in (Mike) Groh. It’s an entirely different roster than last year. You have receivers that can make you think about somebody other than Saquon Barkley, especially with Waller in the mix.”

(Top photo of Jalin Hyatt: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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