One day last February new Giants coach Tom Coughlin stared into the eyes of the portly running back sitting across from him and asked a simple question. Coughlin wanted to know how much Ron Dayne weighed. When Dayne, mostly a disappointment since being selected in the first round of the 2000 draft, said he weighed 275 pounds, Coughlin gave him an ultimatum: Shed 30 pounds by the team's minicamp in May, or don't bother showing up.
When he took the field for the Giants' preseason opener against the Chiefs last Friday night, the 5'10" Dayne weighed 234 pounds. Then, with most eyes focused on the quarterback battle between Kurt Warner and rookie first-round draft pick Eli Manning, Dayne stole the show, running for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries in a 34--24 New York win.
At least three defenders slammed into Dayne on his first touchdown run, but he bounced outside and sprinted for a 29yard score. On the Giants' next possession he raced untouched for a 67-yard score. On both runs he displayed a shocking burst as he pulled away from his pursuers. "I kidded him after the second one," said New York running back Tiki Barber. "I told him I might not have been able to run away from the defense like that."
Granted, this was only one preseason game--against a suspect Chiefs defense at that--but it's hard to ignore Dayne's performance. In his first four seasons Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner, ran for only 1,888 yards, and last season he got so deep in then coach Jim Fassel's doghouse that he didn't dress for a single game. The rap on Dayne was that he was soft and slow to hit the hole.
It didn't seem likely that Coughlin, a disciplinarian, would have much use for Dayne either. But last January, Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi presented Coughlin with a stack of Dayne's game films and asked the coach to take a look. "I didn't give him any propaganda," says Accorsi. "I just asked him to see for himself." Coughlin reviewed tapes of Dayne's rookie year--when he gained a career-high 770 yards--and saw promise. He called Accorsi immediately and asked why Dayne hadn't played more.
In Jacksonville, Coughlin enjoyed success with bigger backs like Natrone Means, James Stewart and Fred Taylor, and he thought Dayne had similar potential. In fact, even before the breakout last Friday, Coughlin mentioned Dayne as being a key figure in the Giants' attack. "Ron has really given himself a chance to be successful," Coughlin says. "He's taught himself to eat properly. He's kept his weight down. And he's shown he has some speed to the outside. He deserves the opportunity he's getting."