NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Not long after the Giants selected tight end Daniel Bellinger in the fourth round of the 2022 draft this spring and got him on the field in the summer, it was evident he would be part of the playing rotation as a rookie.
He has quickly grown into much more than that.
Bellinger will be one of three members of the 2022 draft class to start on offense Sunday when the Giants face the Titans at Nissan Stadium. It was a foregone conclusion that first-round pick Evan Neal would start at right tackle, and wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson was impressive enough in preseason to be part of the three-receiver starting group, though Sterling Shepard’s recovery from a torn Achilles tendon has made him a viable option, albeit in a limited role.
Bellinger came aboard along with two veteran tight ends signed in free agency. The expectation was Ricky Seals-Jones, Jordan Akins or both would be around to ease Bellinger’s acclimation to the NFL. Seals-Jones was no factor and was put on season-ending injured reserve and Akins was released. That leaves Bellinger and recent arrival Tanner Hudson (five receptions in 22 career games) as the only players listed at tight end on the roster. Chris Myarick, a returnee from last season, is on the depth chart as a fullback.
After the cut-down to 53 players and the subsequent personnel maneuvering, the Giants did not bring in an experienced tight end.
“I didn’t really think about it too much,’’ Bellinger told The Post. “I just focused on what I had to do, focused on my opportunity and attacking the opportunity and not worrying too much about the business side of who they’re gonna bring in and the numbers and all that. I just focused on what I had to do and my job.’’
Bellinger was not a focal point of the passing attack at San Diego State, for which he had 68 receptions in 43 career games. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, he has the size to contribute as a blocker in the running game, and he showed soft hands in training camp. He will get the opportunity to do both in his NFL debut.
“To me it means the world,’’ Bellinger said. “It’s just going to mean a childhood dream coming true. I’ve been watching it for Sundays for the last 21 years of my life and know getting to actually play means the world.’’
Nothing Bellinger has been immersed in with the Giants has come close to overwhelming him. What comes next, though, will surely challenge him.
“Focus on one play at a time, one thing at a time, try not to be overwhelmed with the whole game, the atmosphere and the fans and everything,’’ Bellinger said. “Just lock in on the game plan and execute one play at a time.’’
The first game as an NFL head coach for Brian Daboll comes against someone he knows quite well. Mike Vrabel was a linebacker with the Patriots from 2001-08, and for the first six of those years, Daboll was an assistant coach, working on defense then as the wide receivers coach. It took Daboll 25 years to become a head coach. It took Vrabel just seven.
“It’s not surprising where he is, how smart he was as a player,’’ Daboll said. “He was extremely smart, extremely dependable, extremely tough. He kind of was one step ahead of everybody. He kind of knew what the offense was doing quite a bit, a great leader. He played on offense and caught a bunch of touchdowns at tight end. I’m not surprised what he’s done.’’
Daniel Jones, entering his fourth NFL season, said he will be nervous before the game.
“I think if it’s important to you, you get that excitement or butterflies a little bit,’’ Jones said. “It’s all a good thing and it helps you know that you’re getting ready to go. Once we get out there and the ball gets snapped, that normally calms down a little bit and you get into the flow of the game.’’
The Giants activated two players from their practice squad for the game: S Tony Jefferson and OLB Quincy Roche.
Both moves were anticipated and address depth issues, as outside linebackers Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee) Azeez Ojulari (calf) and safety Dane Belton (clavicle) are not expected to play. Max Garcia, a veteran offensive lineman on the practice squad, is no longer with the Giants, and was signed to the Cardinals’ active roster.