There are parts of the game every NFL rookie must work on. There are edges to be smoothed to extract the full amount of talent.
For Kadarius Toney, it is less edges and more his edge. Playing with emotion is great, until that emotion takes you off the field, as it did last Sunday, when Toney connected with a punch — not a jab, but a right hook that included a wind-up — to Dallas safety Damontae Kazee’s head.
It is unclear whether Kazee said something or if Toney, who had just been gang-tackled, was sticking up for Evan Engram, who was in the middle of a scrum with Kazee. But whatever the Dallas defensive back did that riled up Toney, it is clear Jalen Ramsey will be trying to do the same thing.
If Toney wants to prove he is not just an elite receiver, but one who can control his temper, the Giants’ matchup with the Rams at MetLife Stadium on Sunday will be a perfect test of both. After Toney announced himself as both a tremendous weapon and one that can backfire, some may wonder if he can survive all four quarters.
But there’s no doubt from Toney, who flashed a big smile Friday and shrugged off any potential fireworks between him and Ramsey, one of the most exciting and inciting players in football. Toney, who is officially listed as questionable with an ankle injury, is expected to play in a matchup he hopes will not have much drama.
“I’m a silent assassin. I don’t talk to nobody on the field,” said Toney, and while it is possible he did not say much last week, his punch was plenty loud.
If Toney has a pressure point, Ramsey will be searching for it all game. The Rams cornerback is both excellent in coverage and in needling. The Giants know this especially well after last year, when Golden Tate and Ramsey had to be peeled apart from each other, coming to blows as a part of a brawl in the minutes after the Giants’ 17-9 loss to the Rams.
It was only one more chapter for Ramsey, who has fought on the field with DK Metcalf and A.J. Green, too. He does not back off, and enticing a player who last week caught 10 passes for 189 yards into an ejection this week would be helpful for the Rams.
“He’ll be fine. Jalen likes to talk — everybody knows that around the league,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said this week. “We’re not going to shy away from anything.”
The veteran Shepard figures to play alongside the rookie Toney in what projects to be the strongest group of weapons Daniel Jones — who is on track to start after he was medically cleared Friday — has had to throw to all season.
Granted, there will be no Saquon Barkley, but Shepard and perhaps Darius Slayton, who is listed as questionable, may be returning from hamstring injuries that have sidelined them the past two weeks. When those two were healthy, Toney was not an integrated part of the offense after he had been greatly limited in training camp, when he had both a hamstring issue and a bout with COVID-19.
It took until Week 4 to get a taste of what Toney can do, when the first-round pick caught six passes for 78 yards in the win over the Saints. He exploded last week against Dallas, even without Jones playing the second half. He gained yards every kind of way, from crossing patterns to deep routes, proving himself a slippery and elusive ball-carrier who finds seams where others see obstacles. After his slow start, he already ranks 17th in yards after the catch at 165, tucked just behind the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill.
The Giants would miss Toney if he can’t stay on the field.
“If he’s going to try — I mean, you can always attempt, but you can’t always get the result that you want out of it,” Toney said of Ramsey after Friday’s practice. “It was a learning process last week, so you shouldn’t expect anything like that from me.”
The Giants expect to see more from him, both literally and metaphorically. Maybe there will be some wildcat action, too. He nearly ran in a touchdown last week, gaining 7 yards while advancing to the Cowboys’ 2-yard line on a direct snap, and he owns a strong arm which he showed off in his high-school quarterback days.
There will be many ways Toney’s game can speak for itself Sunday, provided Ramsey’s game and mouth are muted.
The receiver doesn’t think that will be a problem. He says he can quiet down even when others want him to speak.
“If I wasn’t here and we were talking,” Toney said during his media session, “I probably wouldn’t talk to you, either.”