After finishing the 2014 regular season as one of the worst run-blocking tight ends in the NFL, New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell made it his goal this offseason to improve in that area. After the Giants' first preseason game, Donnell believes that hard work has already paid off and it's showing up on the field.
"This last game, that's the best I've felt blocking since I've been here," Donnell told NJ Advance Media, per James Kratch. "I graded out well, and I actually felt good about myself in my blocking."
Donnell might be on to something. While Donnell is likely talking about the grades he received from Giants coaches, we also have a way to gauge Donnell's performance as a blocker. Pro Football Focus is a website dedicated to charting and grading every snap from every player. In 2014, they graded Donnell as one of the five worst run-blocking tight ends in the NFL. In the preseason opener, despite playing just 18 total snaps and eight run blocking snaps, Donnell earned a very strong run-blocking grade per Pro Football Focus.
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The Giants believe that Donnell has special talent and his woes as a blocker can be attributed to simple technique issues. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Donnell certainly has the prototypical body type to become an excellent blocking and receiving tight end.
"My problem last year was my hands would get too wide," Donnell said. "You can't get any push like that. Now, I'm focusing on getting my hands inside and just keep fighting no matter what. I might get knocked back a little bit, but as long as my body is in front of [the defender], the back can read that."
Donnell will continue to work on his craft as a blocker after focusing most of his attention at receiving when he first entered the NFL. Only now, it seems like Donnell has a much better grip on what he needs to do to get better.
"It's positioning, it's timing, it's shooting the hands at the right time, it's getting the hands inside," Donnell said. "[Blocking is] a battle, because those defensive guys want to get their hands inside, and you want to get your hands inside. It's just a mentality."
Donnell can't lose focus when it comes to working on his receiving skills either. Donnell finished the final 12 games of the 2014 season with just two touchdowns and three games over with over 50 yards receiving.
In the Giants' final four games of 2014, Donnell was on the field for his lowest percentage of total offensive snaps since Week 6. If his blocking improvements are for real and stay consistent throughout the preseason, Donnell is an excellent bet to best his career high 889 offensive snaps from the 2014 season.
(h/t True Jersey)