Coming off a strong finish to the 2012 season and making major strides during recent organized team activities, Rueben Randle appears poised for a breakout year in his second NFL campaign.
Randle, a second-round draft choice out of LSU, had a respectable — though unspectacular — rookie season with the New York Giants. Seeing action in all 16 games, the former Bastrop High Parade All-American hauled in 19 passes for 298 yards (15.7 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Showing soft hands, he dropped only one pass all season. On special teams, he returned 15 punts for a 7.2-yard norm.
Though his rookie season could hardly be considered a bust, the Giants had higher expectations for Randle.
"It was a learning experience," Randle said of his rookie year, "but it ended on a positive note. I'm thankful for that."
Finishing the year with a flourish, Randle caught four passes for 58 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Giants' 42-7 season finale victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The week prior, the 6-2, 208-pound Randle nabbed a 43-yard reception in a 33-14 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Randle displayed his playmaking skills in spurts throughout his first season. This year, he is looking to be more consistent.
He set career highs for catches and yards in a six-reception, 82-yard effort as the Giants defeated the Cleveland Browns 41-27 in Week 5.
Three weeks later, Randle produced a career-long 56-yard grab against Dallas, finishing the contest with two catches for 68 stripes in a 29-24 victory.
In Week 12, Randle caught his first NFL touchdown pass — a 16-yarder — in a 38-10 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Randle is looking to contribute more in the season ahead.
"I just want to build on last season and get better," said Randle, who hosted a free football clinic Saturday at Bastrop High.
Randle, who entered the draft following his junior season of college, says his biggest obstacle was grasping the playbook.
"The Giants have a very complex offense," Randle said. "To me, that was the biggest challenge in adjusting to the NFL. Learning how to be a professional, learning the system and learning what the organization expects from me took a little time."
With his second training camp approaching, Randle is more at ease.
"Last year, I was doing a lot of thinking, so I wasn't playing as fast as I need to play," Randle said. "This year, I can run with it and use my natural ability. I'm way more confident. I think that's why I made such an improvement this spring."
Randle created a buzz during the offseason. With starting wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks missing last month's voluntary workouts due to contract issues, Randle caught offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's eye while working with the first unit.
Page 2 of 2 - "Rueben emerged from a guy that showed flashes, that always caught the ball well but maybe didn't always run the routes as precisely and crisply as you wanted and didn't have quite the understanding you wanted," Gilbride told the team's web site, www.giants.com.
During OTAs, Gilbride saw the player the Giants were looking for in last year's draft.
"I mean, he looks like a guy that's been here for five or six years," Gilbride said. "His whole demeanor, his whole professionalism, was outstanding. Certainly, he has stepped into a leadership role. Not only did he grow, he kind of became the bell cow of the receiving corps. He was first in line and did all of those things. That was not what we saw last year, not by a long shot."
Although Cruz and Nicks have rejoined the team, the Giants' No. 3 receiver role appears to be Randle's for the taking.
"Cruz and Nicks get a lot of attention, so something's going to be open," Randle said. "I'm looking forward to making those big plays and helping the team."
Like Randle, the Giants are looking for significant improvement in 2013. Coming off of a Super Bowl championship, the Giants missed the playoffs with a 9-7 mark last year.
"We were able to get a lot of work in, but it's really hard to tell where you are until after minicamp and OTAs,' Randle said. "You have so many rules and restrictions in minicamp and OTAs. We'll be able to get more done once we get into camp."
The Giants report for preseason camp on Friday, July 26 and begin preseason play at Pittsburgh on Saturday, Aug. 10. Opening the regular season, the Giants travel to Dallas on Sunday, Sept. 8.
Needless to say, his confidence level is considerably higher than at this time a year ago.
"I think things will go a lot smoother for me this year," Randle predicted. "I'm looking forward to this year. It should be exciting."