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Shane Vereen could be more prominent than expected in Giants' backfield

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We're not to the point of charting individual plays in organized team activities, and hopefully we never will be. But one distinct impression I got from watching the New York Giants on their indoor practice field Monday was: A lot of work for new running back Shane Vereen.

"So far, so good," Vereen said after practice. "I'm just trying to keep my feet on the ground and learn everything I can to stay on top of the playbook."

Vereen signed as a free agent after helping the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl in February. So unlike incumbent running backs Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, Vereen has to learn Ben McAdoo's offense. That shouldn't be a lengthy or difficult process, just based on what we saw with the running backs who had to learn it last season, but it's fair to expect him to be a bit behind at this point on the terminology.

But Vereen was getting a lot of action in the team period Monday, and not just catching the ball. The Giants were running him out of the backfield, the way they might with a back who's in there on more than just third downs.

"He's a very positive young man who's happy to be here and looks forward to contributing," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "When we brought him in, we thought, 'Here's a guy that catches the ball out of the backfield and would be another obvious weapon that would have to be defended."

Vereen's intended and most likely role is as a third-down back, given his ability to catch the ball and his abilities in pass protection. The most likely candidate for the early-down work is Jennings, who signed a year ago to be the starter but struggled with injuries throughout his first season with the Giants. Williams also lurks as a Jennings alternate and a potential goal-line back.

But watching Monday, I had the idea that Vereen might be more important than initially thought, and one of the reasons for that is the injury to left tackle Will Beatty.

The Giants' biggest offensive line issues last season weren't pass-protection issues. They struggled more in the run game. But as of right now, their starting tackles would be rookie Ereck Flowers and newcomer Marshall Newhouse, who was signed to be a backup. It's not crazy to expect they could struggle in pass protection more this season than they did a year ago with Beatty on the field.

That's where Vereen comes in. It's not that Jennings can't handle pass-protection or blitz pickup duties, it's that Vereen is known to be extremely good at it. Add in the fact of Jennings' persistent health issues, and it's not hard to imagine the Giants wanting Vereen on the field as much as possible to aid in the success of the passing game and the survival of Eli Manning. It's early, but it's something to file away.