If the SUNY Albany football field were MetLife Stadium and the opponent the Philadelphia Eagles or the Dallas Cowboys, rather than the Giants second-team defense, wide receiver Ramses Barden would be a household name.
On this field, Barden has been as difficult to cover as Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz. Nearly every practice, Barden seemingly makes a catch that only someone with his size (6-6) and reach could handle.
But the 26-year-old Barden can’t get by on training camp excellence anymore. Now in his fourth season, Barden has played only 17 games in three seasons, partially because of injuries, but also because he’s been looking up at Nicks, Cruz and Mario Manningham on the depth chart.
“I’ve always practiced well at this time of year,” Barden told CBSSports.com. “That’s not really what I’m concerned about."
This is his third trip to Albany. The Giants did training camp at their facility last year as he recovered from ankle surgery.
“Obviously camp is extremely important, but it’s not my sole focus,” Barden said. “I’m preparing for the season. Preseason, season: those are my checkpoints.”
So why are things different this time around?
For starters, Barden began last season on PUP because of his ankle injury. This time, however, Barden insists he’s as healthy as he’s ever been.
“I can’t ask for much more,” he said. “I had an offseason without surgeries. That’s nice. I didn’t have that last year.”
Barden appeared in only eight games last season, but quarterback Eli Manning still targeted him 19 times, which is a lot considering he’d been in and out of the Giants offense.
Of course, the advantage of being 6-6 is that, even if you’ve been out of the offense, you’re still hard to miss.
“It’s one that I don’t have as much to do with as my parents did,” Barden said of his height advantage. “But, you know, I’m appreciative of it. I’ve got extremely long arms and big hands and so it provides a big safety net for Eli, and he doesn’t even need one. He’s so accurate and precise, but the more you can do, the more you can help. I like to have him be able to look my way every time. Even when I’m not necessarily open, I still feel like I’m open.”
Manning and Barden connected three times for 38 yards in a late November loss to the New Orleans Saints last season. Unfortunately, Barden was targeted five times against the Jets on Christmas Eve, making just one catch, and he was subsequently left inactive for the rest of the season.
The silver lining is that Barden has another great chance this season. Nicks will be out until at least mid-August because of offseason foot surgery, and Manningham signed with the San Francisco 49ers.
Yes, Domenik Hixon has been taking reps with the first-team offense, but the fewer bodies on the depth chart means more reps for Barden -- and that’s only going to help his chances when the season rolls around.
And for someone who has fought injuries and crowded depth charts in his first three seasons, this is as good of a chance as Barden may ever see again.
Follow the Giants and Alex Raskin on Twitter @CBSSportsNFLNYG and @alexraskinNYC.