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Free agent rookie TE CJ Conrad a surprise at Giants camp

By TOM CANAVAN

AP Sports Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Rookie free agent tight end CJ Conrad might be the biggest surprise at the New York Giants' training camp.

The University of Kentucky product is catching passes at practice every day, has shown he can block and even got a couple of first-team reps with Eli Manning and the first team last week.

Not bad for a guy who was sent home from the NFL scouting combine because doctors were concerned he might have a heart issue.

Conrad didn't. He saw a cardiologist and was told to have a yearly screening. Conrad did not specify the exact issue.

It's the last thing on his mind now. He has been making an impression and will look to continue doing that when the Giants open their preseason against the rival Jets at MetLife Stadium on Thursday night.

"My expectations were to come in here and compete at the highest level I possibly could and get better every single day," Conrad said Monday. "I feel like I have done that so far. I still have a ways to go but I feel like I am getting better every day. That's the mindset you have to have and that's what you have to do."

There is no doubt Conrad faces an uphill battle to make the roster.

Evan Engram, a first-round draft pick in 2017, played really well last year. He had 45 catches for 577 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games after overcoming knee and hamstring injuries.

Veteran Rhett Ellison, a good blocker, had 25 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown, while Scott Simonson had nine catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.

Conrad wasn't concerned with the Giants' roster when he signed after the draft. He knew his chances of being drafted were not good after being sent home from the combine. He picked a team that did not draft a tight end this year.

Coming out of Kentucky, Conrad was considered one of the most underrated tight ends in the country. He caught 30 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns in his senior year. The numbers weren't eye-popping, but there was a reason for that.

The Wildcats were a run-heavy team last season with Benny Snell Jr. rushing for 1,449 yards.

"We were doing whatever it took to win the SEC and we were a program just trying to win games and change the program," Conrad said. "We had a good running back and we really relied on our run game in the middle of the season."

Conrad understood his role and blocked. In fact, he liked it.

"I found it fun over my years at Kentucky manhandling dudes and manhandling defenses," he said. "It's almost more satisfying to pancake someone than score your own touchdown."

Conrad had 80 catches for 1,015 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career, the second-most receiving TDs for a tight end in school history.

Conrad comes from an athletic family. His mother and father, Lois and Mike, played basketball at Tiffan University. His brother, Austin, plays football at Ohio University. His sister, Mackenzie, played softball at Akron and Coastal Carolina.

The pickup games in the backyard were intense.

"That's where I get my competitive edge," he said. "We got after each other, especially me and my brother."

Conrad said he just wants to keep working and improving.

"Right now is football only," Conrad said. "That's my mindset and how I'm attacking it every day."

NOTES: OT Brian Mihalik left practice with a stinger. ... LB Zak DeOssie and DB Michael Thomas were excused from practice to handle players' union business. ... WR Golden Tate will have the appeal of his four-game suspension for using an illegal substance heard on Tuesday. He used a fertility drug prescribed by a doctor. ... DL B.J. Hill missed practice because of the birth of a son.

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Updated August 5, 2019

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