Don’t get John Conner wrong; he loves every part of his game that led to the nickname ‘The Terminator.’
He loves blocking, knocking opponents over and being his team’s personal battering ram. But there’s a part of his game that is often omitted when his skill set is brought up. A talent that may be exactly what he needs to fend off Henry Hynoski as the Giants’ fullback on the final 53-man roster.
“I can catch the ball a little bit, too,” Conner said. “And I can run.”
Since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, Conner’s ball skills have never truly been on display. As Rex Ryan’s personal draft pick, Conner was labeled a hard-nosed fullback destined to pave the way for whomever lined up in the Jets’ backfield. But before he played a down in the NFL, he earned Hollywood fame for his role in HBO’s Hard Knocks his rookie season.
On the show, which follows an NFL team throughout its training camp, Ryan told a story about a time he was scouting a linebacker. While watching film, a fullback from Kentucky stood out, blocking and knocking over everyone in his way. Each draft, the Jets would give Rex Ryan one pick to select anyone he liked. He fell in love with the fullback, making Conner his selection.
HBO’s cameras ate up the story, making Conner one of the spotlighted players on the series. He was nicknamed ‘The Terminator,” a name that still holds today.
“It was cool as a rookie to get all that publicity,” Conner said before being interrupted by teammates who all growled ‘Terminator,’ causing the 27-year-old to attempt to hide a smile.
Conner made the Jets roster his first two seasons, but was waived in 2012 via injury settlement. The fullback sprained his MCL and Lex Hilliard played well enough in his absence for the Jets to feel confident cutting ties.
He then signed with the Cincinnati Bengals where he once again found himself on Hard Knocks. This time, the story didn’t have a Cinderella ending. Conner was cut when the Bengals decided the team didn’t need a prototypical fullback, electing to go with former tight end Orson Charles.
“I’m shocked,” Conner said on the show. “But it’s a business.”
Conner worked out for the Bills before agreeing to a two-year contract with the Giants four weeks into last season. The Ohio native filled in admirably for an injured Henry Hynoski in an offense that perfectly suited his talents. There was an abundance of two-back sets in former coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s offense.
Then the season ended, Gilbride retired and Ben McAdoo was hired. A new offense – one Conner admits doesn’t appear to use the fullback as much – is in the process of being implemented and Hynoski is back and healthy. Once again, ‘The Terminator’ finds himself in a position battle.
“I love competition, it brings out the best in people. As long as it’s fair, I love it,” said Conner, who spent noticeable time in the weight room this offseason. “Being a fullback, you kind of expect that you’re going to compete every year.
“I feel like the last few years in the NFL I’ve reached the point where I’ve become a top-tier fullback in the league. I just want to go out there and have a healthy competition, there’s nothing wrong with a healthy competition.”
Throughout OTAs and the Giants’ mandatory mini-camp, there’s been no clear indication of who exactly is atop the depth chart. At times, Hynoski is the first one out. Other times, it’s Conner.
“Henry and John have both done a nice job,” McAdoo said. “We mix, we’re in and out of personnel groups and those types of things at this point. You like to use the fullback. The way I was raised, a fullback’s a big part of the things you do.”
While the fullback will be guaranteed to have a role in the new offense, what exactly it will be asked to do is anyone’s guess. McAdoo has never called plays in his NFL coaching career. Neither Hynoski nor Conner has been asked in their career to be a ‘weapon’ on offense.
No matter what is asked of the position, Conner believes he can do it.
“I absolutely think I can be a weapon,” Conner said. “A lot of people just don’t get a chance to see that part of my game because I’ve always been seen as a lumberer.”
Unlike Conner’s past competitions, no matter how this one shapes up, HBO won’t be there to document it. While the Giants were one of eight teams that could potentially be ‘forced’ to do the show, the Atlanta Falcons stepped up and volunteered.
Conner was well aware New York was eligible to be featured. In fact, he was almost preparing for it.
“It seemed like they just followed me around,” Conner said, laughing. “I kept thinking like, man, three times? That would have been crazy.”