The Giant Insider Online

Jonathan Stewart Brings Much Needed Experience to Giants’ Young Backfield

Coming into the 2018 season, one of the goals of the New York Giants’ new coaching staff is to balance out the offense, a pass-heavy attack that has fizzled and died a slow death the past two seasons. They had to resuscitate their running game, the part of their offense that had more implosion than explosion to it.

They drafted running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick, but after him, the running back room was light on both quantity and quality as well as much needed experience. So, when the Giants signed 31-year-old, ten-year veteran Jonathan Stewart to a two-year, $6.9 million contract (with $2.95 million guaranteed) in free agency in March, they felt he was the player to be the sounding board of reason in the group.

A former first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers out of Oregon in 2008, Stewart knows the pitfalls that young backs in this league face. He was fortunate to join a solid unit chock full of experience.

“It was good to have vets around,” Stewart said on Saturday. “They did a great job of just making sure that I knew what was going on.”

And that will now be his job here with the Giants. The other running backs are either rookies or have limited experience in the NFL.

“The running back room has been really cool,” Stewart said. “The running back coach [Craig Johnson] is smart, has a lot of wisdom, a lot of knowledge. Everybody there can play and not only can they play, but they’re very smart so it makes everything easy.”

The unit consists of Barkley, who the Giants plan on using heavily at some point, two second-year players in Wayne Gallman and fullback Shane Smith, free agent Jalen Simmons, Robert Martin, an undrafted free agent from Rutgers and Stewart.

Stewart is charged with providing depth as well as imparting his knowledge and experience. He himself was once a star, scoring 10 touchdowns in each of his first two NFL seasons with the Panthers. In 2009, he rushed for 1,133 yards and in 2011 he caught 47 passes for 413 yards. He is the Panthers’ all-time leading rusher with 7,318 yards.

“Every day I get a couple of questions here and there,” Stewart said. “You can definitely tell that they’re eager to learn and just work on their craft, and just be better teammates and football players. At the end of the day, we’re a team and there’s no hierarchy. You have to do your job and you have to help the team win, but the moment you start thinking of yourself as something bigger than the team, that’s when things can go downhill.”

How much Stewart has left physically is still in question. Giants beat writer Matt Lombardo of NJ.com recently wrote: “This spring, Stewart looked more like a plodding veteran running back trying to hang on, than a back capable of shouldering a significant workload. If nothing else, Stewart should provide steady veteran leadership in a locker room that is in desperate need of it.”

The group has made Stewart feel more energized. He’s got a miles on his treads, but in his mind he’s right there with the youngsters. There’s always something new, even to a player who is attending his eleventh training camp.

“You’ve got to stay in your books, you got to know what’s going on,” he said. “Me being an older guy too, and being in a room full of young guys, has definitely made me more youthful

“If you’re not learning everyday, then you’re getting dumber. So you’ve got to figure something to get better at every day. I’m always picking the other guys’ brains. I’m always trying to pick Eli’s brain, some of the receivers’ brains. Even from my running back peers. Just because I’m older and a vet doesn’t make it that I know everything.”

Stewart knows you’re only as good as last game in this league. He wants to prove to general manager Dave Gettleman, who he played for in Carolina as well, that his nearly $7 million investment was a worthwhile. He’s taking nothing for granted.

“I approach it like I do every year,” Stewart said. “I play this game to win football games and at the end of the day you practice like you’re the starter, because you never know when your number is going to be called. That’s how I’ve ever done it since I was in high school.”

For Stewart, high school is much further in the rearview mirror than it is for the others in that running back room. He’s up against time and money, two things that always win out in this world. As Satchel Paige once said: “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you…”

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