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Ex-Panther Jonathan Stewart competing to make Giants’ roster

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Jonathan Stewart has been involved in 11 training camps during his NFL career, so the 31-year-old veteran running back knows the drill.
Regardless that Stewart signed a reported two-year, $6.9 million contract with the New York Giants as a free agent, he knows that nothing in the NFL is guaranteed.
“Every year, I feel like I’m fighting for a spot,” Stewart said after Sunday’s practice as the Giants prepare for their final preseason game Thursday night against New England. “I think everyone is battling. Every time I step onto the field, I’m trying to put my best foot forward.”
So far, the Giants have yet to see any of the ability that enabled Stewart to stay in the league so long. He had amassed 7,318 yards rushing and 51 touchdowns in 10 years with the Carolina Panthers.
Stewart’s preseason performance of a total of minus-5 yards on 10 rushing attempts should be cause for concern to some — but not Stewart.
“I think the preseason is a time to work on our craft,” Stewart said. “I’m still trying to jell with the first team. I’m trying not to dwell on certain things.”
One of those things was a fumble on one of his carries against the New York Jets on Friday night.
“I didn’t hold on to the ball like I should,” Stewart said. “I have to learn to bounce back from my mistakes. Not everything can go your way. I had a good offseason in terms of training. I think it has been a good preseason for me. I’ve been getting a good amount of practice reps.”
That number will decrease now that rookie Saquon Barkley, the team’s No. 1 draft pick out of Penn State and the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, returned to practice full time Sunday. Barkley has been held out most of the past two weeks after tweaking a hamstring in practice.
“He’s a very talented guy,” Stewart said of Barkley. “He’s a physical specimen. You don’t see many running backs of that caliber. He’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s a great sign that he’s back. He’s a workaholic. When he got hurt, he was looking to get back as quick as possible.”
Barkley is back and projected to be the starting tailback. Second-year player Wayne Gallman Jr., the team’s fourth-round selection in the 2017 draft who rushed for 476 yards and caught 34 passes as a rookie, has been impressive in the preseason and is probably ahead of Stewart on the depth chart.
Giants’ first-year head coach Pat Shurmur isn’t too concerned about Stewart’s preseason and doesn’t sound like a coach who is ready to give up on Stewart.
“Jonathan is a pro,” Shurmur said. “I know how his offseason training has gone for him. I trust Jonathan and I trust that he will be productive for us.”
Shurmur also knows that the Giants have not run the ball effectively in the preseason.
“When you don’t run the ball well, it’s the whole team’s fault,” Shurmur said. “When you don’t run the ball well early in the game, that sets the tone for the rest of the game. It’s a team thing to work on the running game. It’s not just one person. ”
The Giants might have lost a key player during practice Sunday when starting outside linebacker Olivier Vernon went down with an apparent left ankle injury and had to be taken off the practice field on a cart.
“He just went inside the block and went over on his ankle,” Shurmur said. “He’s being evaluated right now.”
The Giants also welcomed back starting tight end Evan Engram, who left Friday night’s preseason game with the Jets with what was initially diagnosed as a concussion.
The second-year pass catcher, who had 64 receptions and six touchdowns as a rookie, was on the field running and riding the stationary bicycle Sunday, but was not involved with any contact, because he’s still in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
NOTES: The Giants traded center Brett Jones to the Vikings for a 2019 draft pick. … WR Odell Beckham, Jr. has not seen any action yet in the preseason, but he looks healthy in practice and was actually joking around Sunday returning punts in some drills. … With the trade of Jones, Jon Halapio is entrenched as the team’s starter at center, but John Greco slides in as the No. 2 center on the depth chart. … Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong continues to impress in the preseason and looks as if he has earned a spot on the roster. If Armstrong makes the cut, it means that three of the Giants linebackers this season were members of the Los Angeles Rams a year ago, joining Alec Ogletree and Connor Barwin.

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