EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — It's rare for a team's fifth-round draft pick to catch the eye of a head coach in minicamp, well before NFL training camps begin in earnest late next month.
Rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton has certainly made his presence felt for the New York Giants, however — especially when Slayton struggled with some dropped passes during the rookie minicamp in April.
In fact, Slayton was matched up Thursday with first-round draft pick DeAndre Baker, much like the two were for three years in the highly competitive world of the SEC with Slayton at Auburn and cornerback Baker at Georgia.
Although the two were not in full equipment Thursday, giving Slayton a bit of an advantage, Slayton simply ran away from the defender on two long passes, causing coach Pat Shurmur to take notice.
"I think the guy who's made huge improvements in my eyes has been Slayton," Shurmur said. "He's done a really good job. I think we were all here during rookie minicamp when he had the yips, drops and whatnot. He's really smoothed it out and has been making plays. He's the first guy that comes to mind in my eyes. This time of year, it's more about throwing and catching and less about blocking and tackling."
Slayton was very appreciative of the coach's kind words.
"It's definitely huge in my eyes and I'm glad he said what he did," said Slayton, who was a high school state sprint champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in Georgia, much like new teammate Jabrill Peppers was in New Jersey during his high school days. "I'm trying to get better, so it means a lot to me that he took notice. It's huge for me."
Slayton was a big-play receiver for Auburn, averaging more than 20 yards per catch during his three seasons, scoring 13 touchdowns. He also has good size, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 190 pounds.
But Slayton dropped to the fifth round of the draft after he could have returned to Auburn for another year. He then suffered through rookie minicamp.
"The first day (of rookie minicamp), I think I was trying too hard as a rookie, wanting to be super," Slayton said. "Definitely, the one thing I never lost sleep over was my speed. I know other guys can run, so it comes down to what guy has the best technique."
Slayton knew that he struggled and needed to make an impact this week. With Baker covering him during one portion of the workout, fellow rookie and top draft pick Daniel Jones hit Slayton with two big passes. One was deep down the sideline and another was across the middle that Slayton also took for a touchdown.
"A couple of times, I caught the ball and ran down the field and said to myself, 'Yeah, I can do this,'" Slayton said. "I got some beautiful throws from Dan. It was a beautiful play to be able to run away from people."
And once again, Slayton found himself embroiled with cornerback Baker, who has impressed Giants coaches so much that he was running a good portion of the workout with the starters, alongside veteran Janoris Jenkins.
"He's a very good player," Slayton said of Baker. "He's sneaky strong. He might not look like much in street clothes, but he's a lot stronger than I thought. I thought he was the best cornerback in the draft. The last two years, I saw a lot of him. I always thought he was a good cornerback. He's so physical."
Slayton said that he likes the chemistry he has with Jones.
"He's a strong guy who throws a great ball," Slayton said. "It's easy to work with a guy like that. I just have to get open and he's going to get the ball to me."
The two went to the Rookie Premiere for three days in Los Angeles last month, with the NFL Players Association hosting 40 of the top rookies for trading card photos and other merchandising, courtesy of Fanatics and Panini America, the trading card partner of the NFLPA.
"It was a good experience for me," Slayton said. "I got to know Dan better. We were the only two Giants out there. I'm not much of a picture taker, so it was all new to me. It was the first time I was ever to the West Coast. We did a lot of talking together out there."
Baker was admittedly not at the top of his game against Slayton because he wasn't in full uniform.
"We're definitely at a disadvantage, because if the receiver gets a free release without pressing, it's kind of hard to do anything," Baker said. "It makes you better with your different techniques. You really can't get your hands on them (receivers) in minicamp. So it's all off-coverage and mirroring the guy and getting your feet better. That's all you can do right now.
"We're out there competing. They won some battles and I won some battles. It's all good to compete. It's a good atmosphere, the DBs versus the wide receivers. Let's see what I can do before the pads come on."
Shurmur also likes what he's seen of Baker thus far.
"He is very competitive and he's very tough," Shurmur said. "The corners are at a little bit of a disadvantage because there is no bump and run. Part of his charm was his ability to play up on a receiver and bump him. We think we are going to see more good stuff once training camp gets going. He's very competitive, he picks things up and he works hard. Those are the things you need to see."
NOTES: Tackle Nate Solder, still recovering from late offseason ankle surgery, is happy to be part of an improved offensive line this season. The Giants traded for veteran guard Kevin Zeitler from the Cleveland Browns and signed free agent tackle Mike Remmers from the Minnesota Vikings. "Kevin brings awesome intensity to our group," Solder said. "I like having him as a teammate. I'm excited about having him with us. The more you get to know someone, the better you feel about him." Second-year OG Will Hernandez agreed. "Me and Nate, we have been clicking together and understand each other well. We can read each other's mind now. Me and him, we've come a long way together and we're ready to get it going. Kevin is an awesome guy and a great teammate. He's the lead guard here and I'm going to learn a lot from him.".The Giants were slated to resume OTAs next Wednesday, but they pushed the workouts up a day to Tuesday instead.