EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — No Saquon Barkley. No Wayne Gallman. The New York Giants‘ backfield will likely be manned by undrafted rookie Jonathan Hilliman and fullback Elijhaa Penny on Thursday against the New England Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network).
Hilliman and Penny, a converted tailback, are expected to split the snaps. Austin Walter should also be elevated from the practice squad as insurance.
Hilliman outsnapped Penny, 43-20, on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings after Gallman suffered a concussion in the first quarter. Hilliman rushed for 20 yards on nine carries and had one reception for four yards in that loss. Penny had three carries for 15 yards and a catch for nine yards. He also had a 13-yard run and a reception negated by penalty.
This is who the Giants will roll with Thursday (in addition to rookie quarterback Daniel Jones) against the league’s No. 1 defense on a short week.
“Well, we are going to do what we can to be ready to play with the running backs we have,” coach Pat Shurmur said on Monday.
Whoever plays is in for a tough challenge. The Patriots (5-0) are allowing 78.0 yards per game on the ground this season.
The good news is the Giants have experienced success running the football this season. Their 5.1 yards per carry is tied for seventh, and their 4.00 yards before contact for their running backs is best in the NFL.
It should help that the offensive line enters this game intact for the Giants (2-3).
The way this is set to go with Barkley unlikely to play as he recovers from a high ankle sprain is that Hilliman will start as the tailback. Penny will flip between fullback and running back throughout the game.
The Giants have said on multiple occasions Penny likes to tell them about his ability to be a feature back. He showed throughout the summer he’s a solid pass-catching option.
“I think he’s a good runner. He has good vision. He has good collision balance,” Shurmur said. “To this point, when we’ve handed it to him, he’s secured it well. Those are all of the elements that you’re looking for in a runner.”
Penny should play on passing downs against the Patriots given his strong hands and ability to block.
The Giants view Penny as a running back. It’s why they only had two tailbacks (Barkley and Gallman) on their active roster just a few weeks back. That is when the Giants waived veteran Paul Perkins, who was immediately claimed by the Detroit Lions.
“It will be a good opportunity for me and our offense to go against the No. 1 defense,” Penny said.
Hilliman, a rookie out of Rutgers by way of Boston College, has 19 career carries for 53 yards. He also averaged 3.2 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns in the preseason.
Penny has averaged 3.9 yards per carry in his three-year career. He’s also caught 13 passes.
Walter is an undrafted rookie out of Rice who the Giants signed to their practice squad less than a month ago.