Aug 052014
 
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Walter Thurmond and Michael Strahan, New York Giants (August 3, 2014)

Walter Thurmond and Michael Strahan – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Where Walter Thurmond III comes from, it’s not uncommon to voice your opinion.

If you think you can be the best, say it. If you feel you already are, scream it. At the end of the day, the way you feel simply stems from the confidence within yourself.

And confidence, well, the 26-year-old corner is overflowing with that. Heck, the first time he met the New York media he declared himself the best nickel corner in the NFL.

“That’s how I am,” Thurmond said “I’m not gonna say something if I can’t back it up. I was able to do that last year.”

‘Last year’ ended with Thurmond and his Seattle Seahawk teammates hoisting of the Vince Lombardi trophy. The California native was an integral part of Seattle’s secondary which gave itself the nickname: ‘The Legion of Boom.’

Thurmond and his teammates were confident, boisterous and let everyone know what they felt they could do on any given play. So when the corner signed with the Giants this offseason, he brought that same mentality with him to East Rutherford.

To his surprise, those already crammed inside the cornerbacks’ meeting room shared that same confidence. They just were a little more reluctant to let it out.

“Some of the younger players just haven’t had the opportunity to express themselves in that manner yet, for whatever reason,” Thurmond said. “They already had it in them, now it’s fun to see them let it out.”

Contributing to Thurmond’s confidence overload is fellow free-agent signee Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The two have worked to bring the Giants’ secondary together as a brotherhood. Thurmond says if the team’s able to do that, it’ll pay massive dividends on the field.

While many secondaries throughout the league have been together for years, Thurmond and his teammates are working to build camaraderie in a short period of time. The closer the group gets, the better all will play.

Thurmond referenced how in Seattle’s secondary, every player knew what every player was thinking without a word being uttered. While the Giants aren’t on that level yet, they’re getting close.

“To be able to play together, especially in these preseason games, it really helps,” Thurmond said. “The more we’re out there together in that fire and on that gridiron being able to compete, that just builds that bond even more.”

Aug 022014
 
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Jacquian Williams (57) and Larry Donnell (84), New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Larry Donnell is ready to show the Giants what he can do on Sunday – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in the Giants’ tight end meeting room last year. Former positional coach Mike Pope would gather his players together, turn off the lights and play video highlights on a projection screen of past greats in Giants’ history.

There were clips of Mark Bavaro, Howard Cross, too. But there was one who resonated with present tight end Larry Donnell more than any other. And it took place on the same field he’ll step foot on this Sunday.

With wide eyes and amazement, Donnell watched a rookie Jeremy Shockey catch a pass in the Hall of Fame game more than a decade ago. The young Shockey turned up field and proceeded to run over several Houston Texan defenders, knocking one over with a mighty stiff arm. The play put thrust the first-round pick into the limelight for the first time and instantly into Giants’ fans hearts.

“Beast,” Donnell said with a smile. “He was given the opportunity to make a play and he did.”

This Sunday, Donnell will be given a similar opportunity on the same stage Shockey graced so many years ago. If things go his way, the second-year pro may provide a ‘shock’ factor of his own.

Embraced in a wide-open position battle, the 25-year-old Donnell presently sits atop New York’s depth chart. While every tight ends works in and out via rotation, Donnell has regularly been the first on the field for any full-team drill. When the team released its first ‘unofficial’ depth chart, Donnell was listed as No. 1.

“It’s good to see stuff like that,” Donnell said, “but you can’t get too carried away with it. My thought isn’t on the depth chart, it’s on doing what I can when my name is called.”

Through the first two weeks of training camp, ‘Donnell’ has been mentioned on a far more frequent basis.

After the offseason conditioning program and beginning portions of camp showed just ‘flashes,’ Donnell has started to shine. On Tuesday, Donnell caught a pair of touchdowns including an impressive one-handed grab on a fade route.

Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin has verbally mentioned Donnell’s name as a player who’s caught is eye. Captain and safety Antrel Rolle has said he’s “loving” the 6-6, 269-pound tight end.

But there are still parts of his game that need to be refined. Sure, Donnell – who was recruited as and played quarterback in high school – has flashed as a receiver. Blocking? That’s a work in progress.

Giants’ tight end coach Kevin Gilbride Jr. has mentioned the possibility of using a ‘tight end by committee’ approach, bringing in blockers when the team needs blockers and receivers when the team needs receivers. That doesn’t sit well with Donnell.

He knows he’s not there yet, but he’s working to establish himself as an all-around tight end, one that’s capable of playing every formation, every play and never coming off the field.

“You’re never satisfied,” Donnell said. “Right now, the receiving game is a strong point and I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to improve in the blocking game and foot working area, too. I want to become that every-down type of guy.”

Donnell’s shown the ability to do it in practice, but practice is practice. Sunday marks the first time this season he’ll show his teammates and coaches what he’s able to do in a game. Just like Shockey 12 years ago.

“The last time we played in this game, that play happened,” Donnell said. “Now I have a chance to make that happen. I’m excited about it and it’s a great opportunity.”

Jul 312014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (June 12, 2014)

Eli Manning at OTAs – © USA TODAY Sports Images

J.D. Walton has gotten himself into a bit of a routine every time he sets the Giants’ offensive huddle.

Just before Eli Manning ducks his head inside and gives the play call, Walton holds his hands out in fists to his left and right. Simultaneously, guards Brandon Mosley and Geoff Schwartz match his with their own, tackles Will Beatty and Justin Pugh, too.

Manning then leans forward, calls the play and the team marches to the line of scrimmage.

The ‘fist bump’ or ‘pound’ is nothing new, but it’s one way Walton is working on developing chemistry across New York’s rebuilt offensive line.

“We need to get in a routine and get comfortable with each other,” Walton said. “That’s part of it. We’re trying to get confidence, get reset, get focused for this next drill and what we’re able to do.”

J.D. Walton (55) and Eli Manning (10), New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

J.D. Walton and Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

For the past 10 years, the same familiar faces have paved the way for running backs and kept defensive linemen off Mannings’ back. Sure, some were replaced, but there was always someone that was the same.

When Rich Seubert and Shaun O’Hara left, there was still Kareem McKenzie, David Diehl and Chris Snee. When McKenzie hung up the cleats, there was still Snee and Diehl.

Then Diehl retired in January and Snee the day the Giants reported to camp. Now? 29-year-old Will Beatty and 23-year-old Justin Pugh are the ‘veterans’ up front. The once familiar faces are gone, replaced with free-agent and drafted acquisitions.

Over the years, New York’s once proud and powerful offensive line had become bruised and battered. In 2008, two players -Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward – rushed for over 1,000 yards. Last season? Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times and running backs averaged the fourth-worst rushing yards per game.

Snee and Diehl have been replaced by the likes of Walton, rookie Weston Richburg, Schwartz and Mosley. While the group is well aware of the prior generation’s accolades, Walton says they’re collectively trying to create their own history.

“They won two world championships the last 10 years and another two the decade before,” Walton said. “But we’re trying to make our own identity. We want to become a great line ourselves and we’re busting our butt out here every day to do that.”

For Walton, he’s been ‘busting his butt’ ever since an injury cost him the last two seasons of his NFL career.

Drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Walton was viewed by some as one of the best centers available. He had the strength to match up with any defensive tackle, along with agility to get to the second level.

He struggled in the early portions of his career. Just as he began to put it all together, it all fell apart. In 2012, Walton suffered a gruesome dislocated ankle versus the Oakland Raiders. Walton, who said prior to the injury had never missed a practice at any level, has yet to play since.

J.D. Walton, Denver Broncos (December 11, 2011)

J.D. Walton – © USA TODAY Sports Images

“It was rough mentally,” Walton said. “You just try to stick with the family. Go up to the facility as much as possible and sit in the meeting rooms. Just be around the guys because they’re your brothers.”

Walton was waived by the Broncos on Dec. 13, 2013 and then signed by the Washington Redskins a day later. He never played a down. Entering free agency this season, he didn’t know what to expect. Sure, Walton knew he could still play. But did other teams?

At the time of his injury, the 27 year old had just been starting to scratch the surface of what he was capable of doing. The Giants saw that and thought he was worth a risk. When Walton’s agent let him know New York was interested, there was not a doubt in his mind.

“It’s the New York Giants,” Walton said. “It has that lure, that credibility and everything you look for in a franchise. It has the name, being able to play for ‘Big Blue’ and Coach Coughlin. It’s a great franchise.’”

This Sunday in the Giants’ Hall of Fame game versus the Buffalo Bills, Walton will have a chance to show New York its gamble was safe. While for some it’s just another preseason game that doesn’t count, to Walton it means the world.

The last time he stepped foot on the field, he left on a cart.

“I’m very, very excited. It’s been a long time coming for me,” Walton said. “Just to be able to knock off all the rust and get back going. It’s gonna be fun.

“I’m a little jittery, but once you get on that field, that’s your comfort zone. For us players, once you get out there on the field, that’s it. There will be a little extra for me because it’s been so long, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a good time.”

Jul 302014
 
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Devon Kennard, USC Trojans (October 13, 2011)

Devon Kennard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

He walks around with the same bashful smile, soft spoken voice and bubbly attitude everywhere he goes.

He’s kind, welcoming and open hearted to any that cross his path. There isn’t a person that walks by that doesn’t get a handshake, sheepish grin or ‘Hello, how are you?’ greeting from Giants’ rookie linebacker Devon Kennard. Kennard’s been that way for as long as he can remember. Growing up, in high school and at USC.

But when Kennard steps foot on the football field, it all changes.

“When you step in between the lines, you need to flip that switch,” Kennard said. “It’s either hit, or be hit.”

Through the early portions of Giants’ training camp, Kennard’s been doing the hitting.

It’s become a fairly regular occurrence, actually. All in attendance—players, coaches, fans—keep their eyes glued on the 23 year old, waiting for what they know is coming, just not when. Then, it’s heard. A large collision of pads followed by a warrior-like bellow from Kennard before being swarmed by teammates.

It happened when Kennard pancaked Bennett Jackson in the team’s first practice with pads, and then it was David Wilson the next day followed by Henry Hynoski. Day in and day out, Kennard continues to stand out.

The team has awarded his physicality with praise and playing time. Despite being drafted in the fifth round, Kennard has been running with the first team ever since middle linebacker Jon Beason was injured during the offseason conditioning program.

“It’s an honor,” Kennard said. “But at the same time it’s not like I’v’e done much of anything yet. We haven’t played any game, any preseason game or anything like that. I still have a long ways to go.”

A Championship Pedigree

From an early age, Kennard always had an idea of what it would take to make it in the NFL. Just as early, he wanted nothing more than to make it there.

Devon Kennard, USC Trojans (August 29, 2013)

Devon Kennard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Kennard’s father, Derek, played 11 seasons of professional football from 1984-1996 as an offensive lineman. Derek was most known for his four-year stint with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he spent the majority of his career, while also earning a ring in Super Bowl XXX with the Dallas Cowboys.

“I just always wanted to play football,” Kennard said. “My dad played it for a long time so I always wanted to.”

Where on the field would he play? Well, that didn’t matter any to him. As long as it was him between the lines, Kennard was happy. He was physical, fiery and had a relentless work ethic. It was nearly impossible for him not to succeed.

But there was one game in particular where he says he took the jump from good to great. It happened when he was a junior in high school playing his, at the time, ‘natural’ defensive end position.

“I came around and I had this huge sack,” Kennard said, smiling. “I ended up having five sacks that game. That was the big moment that rocketed my career.”

The Preparation

After being drafted by the Giants, Kennard wasted no time in diving headfirst into the team’s playbook from the moment he got his hands on it. Some of the schemes, tendencies and terminology came natural, but others he had to work on.

While some rookies enjoy the limelight of being NFL super stars, Kennard hides from it. Sure, he could go out to clubs, or he could put to use his tireless work ethic and perfect his craft. The same work ethic his father taught him when he was younger. The same work ethic his father had throughout the duration of his career.

“I spent a lot of time in the playbook,” Kennard said. “Over the summer, I spent hours and hours all day during (organized team activities). Then, I’d come home and I’m in the playbook for hours until I go to sleep.

“Then I wake up and I’m doing it all over again. Even when we’re off, I’m doing the same thing. It’s the same thing now. I’m trying to learn as much as I can and get the full understanding of the entire defense so I can play multiple roles and do whatever they ask me.”

Kennard’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed. With the team unable to wear pads in spring workouts, it was Kennard’s head that had coaches and teammates turning theirs. Quickly it became evident New York got a bit more than they bargained for in the fifth-round pick from USC.

“He was able to retain a lot of that information,” Giants’ defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “He was able to go out on the field and execute and earn some of the trust of his fellow teammates and the trust of his coaches.

Devon Kennard, USC Trojans (August 29, 2013)

Devon Kennard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Everywhere Man

While at USC, Kennard played four different positions. He began his career as a defensive end playing primarily in pass situations. Then came the switch to strong side linebacker, followed by middle linebacker and finally the weak side.

There were different meeting rooms, different expectations and different assignments. But none of it bothered him. Sure, it was a lot for anyone to take in. Then again, Kennard isn’t like many others.

“I’m a very selfless player,” Kennard said. “I want to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”

The same versatility that Kennard displayed in college has been shown again at the professional level. Throughout the offseason, Kennard has spent time at every one of the positions he played in college.

When Beason went down with an injury, it was Kennard that filled in at middle linebacker. When Jameel McClain took over in the middle for Beason, Kennard slid over to the outside. He’s played weak side linebacker in the team’s three-safety package and even saw  a few snaps at defensive end.

“Kennard’s a very smart kid,” McClain said. “He’s taken advantage of the opportunity in front of him. When opportunity comes, we all have to take advantage of it. This is a prime example of what you’re seeing from him.”

McClain admitted that throughout his six-year NFL career, he’s never seen a player come in and play as many positions as Kennard, having been converted from another position entirely. But when looking at the way he plays, there’s one name that pops into his mind.

“To be honest, if I was to compare him to anyone I’d compare him to me and how I came up in this league. “McClain said. “I came in as a converted linebacker in Baltimore. I played all the positions and got thrown around a bit. It’s pretty unique in that aspect.”

It’s one thing to see a first-round pick get instant reps with the first team. Even a second or third rounder to contribute immediately is expected in today’s NFL. But a fifth rounder? One that was considered by some a reach? One who scouts thought would contribute strictly on special teams early in his career?

Well, there’s not much normal about that.

“Pittsburgh, I think, started Jack Lambert, right away?” Linebackers coach Jim Herrman said. “He turned out pretty good. “

Kennard admitted that while he has a history at defensive end, right now he’s enjoying his time at linebacker. He always liked to hit people, sack people, control the run and help his team win. Linebacker allows him to do that.

But when asked what position he enjoys most, there was no hesitation, no second thought and no pause. The answer was given before the question was done being asked.

“I love playing defense,” Kennard said.

Jul 282014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s one of the more commonly-asked questions at Giants’ training camp. Nearly every reporter has taken their shot at getting a different answer variation, all have kept their eyes peeled when it’s been displayed on the field.

How’s Eli Manning look in Ben McAdoo’s new West Coast Offense? What are the realistic expectations for the upcoming season?

Well, according to Manning and quarterback coach Danny Langsdorf, it seems the sky’s the limit.

“We’d love to be up there at 70 percent,” Langsdorf told The Star-Ledger’s Conor Orr. “It hasn’t been done very often. So that is the ultimate goal. We’d like to raise his completion percentage for sure. I don’t know about the history, maybe the Giants took more shots downfield, but I think there are different things that lead to that completion percentage but we’d love for him to shoot for 70.”

Manning didn’t hold back when asked the same expectation. In fact, he and Langsdorf agreed to the same near identical number.

“The high 60s is kind of the goal, to be in the top of the league,” Manning told NJ.com’s Jordan Raanan. “Sure it’s realistic. It’s a combination of the offense and the players we have.”

If Manning reaches lofty completion percentage expectation, it would not only be a vast improvement over last year, but a career high as well. In his 10 NFL seasons, Manning has never completed better than 62.9 percent of his throws. From 2008 through 2011, he completed over 60 percent. That number has dropped over the last two years, with Manning completed 59.9 in 2012, and 57.5 last year.

While Giants’ offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo didn’t call the plays in Green Bay, he worked on an offensive staff that continually had quarterback Aaron Rodgers near the tops of the league in accuracy. Rodgers has completed over 65 percent of his passes every year since 2010.

But 70 percent? That number has only been reached five times before. Drew Brees (71.2), Brees again (70.6), Ken Anderson (70.6), Steve Young (70.3) and Joe Montana (70.2) are the only signal callers in NFL history to reach that high.

At 33 years old, Can Manning do it? Fan discussion in The Corner Forum.

Jul 282014
 
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Mario Manningham, San Francisco 49ers (November 25, 2012)

Mario Manningham still isn’t 100 percent – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There was a time when Mario Manningham’s roster spot was all but guaranteed.

Back in 2008, the New York Giants drafted him in the third round. In four seasons, he displayed the ability to be a down-field threat who also had the ability to make people miss in space. When he entered free agency following New York’s Super Bowl championship in 2011, he was considered an up-and-coming No. 1 wide receiver.

Then injuries happened. And the budding super star was labeled an injury-prone has-been.

“It was frustrating,” Manningham said. “But (injuries) are part of the game.”

Now six years removed form hearing his name called on draft day, Manningham’s roster status is as up in the air as the passes he once pulled down. Despite being 28 years old, Manningham’s body looks much older than that.

After leaving the Giants, Manningham signed a two-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers. In his first year, he tore both the ACL and PCL in his left knee. Manningham was placed on injured reserve and started the 2013 season on the physically unable to perform list. He returned in November, but was once again placed on injured reserve when he wasn’t deemed physically healthy.

The 49ers elected to let Manningham walk in free agency and he found his way back to the Giants. He sat out the entire offseason conditioning program and has been ‘limited’ in training camp. Despite being two years removed form the initial injury, Manningham still doesn’t feel 100 percent.

“I know my knee is fixed, I just need confidence,” Manningham said. “It’s me sticking my foot in the ground and going. Everyday it gets better and better.”

But while Manningham works to return to the ‘Super Mario’ that once dazzled fans at MetLife Stadium, other healthy options on the roster have stepped up in the process. Marcus Harris has caught nearly every pass thrown his way. Corey Washington has impressed, too. Manningham says he’s “close,” but is it too late?

For the first time in his career, Manningham’s roster position isn’t guaranteed. And he knows it.

“It’s not easy because I know I still have to make the team,” Manningham said. “There’s no real pressure in the back of my mind whether it’s me or them. I’m gonna prepare myself like I’m going to try to make the team.”

Jul 272014
 
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Marcus Harris, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Marcus Harris has been impressive at Giants’ camp – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s a scenario that played out over and over again during New York’s first organized team activity. One of the Giants’ quarterbacks would drop back, scan the field and fire a pass to an intended wide receiver.

Over and over again, that receiver was No. 18. Instantaneously, media would break out the roster and check twice before putting a name to a numeral.

During mini-camp and now training camp, that same No. 18 continues to flash, making reception after reception. If it hits his hands, it’s a catch. The way Marcus Harris sees it, that’s exactly how it has to be.

“Every opportunity I get, I’m just trying to capitalize,” Harris said. “I know I’m not Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle or Odell (Beckham Jr.). I’m just trying to be a spark for the team.”

And he continues to do just that.

While offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo continues the installation of his new West Coast Offense, the Giants continue their growing pains learning their first new offense in seven years. While at times what’s displayed on the field is difficult to watch, Harris has been a consistent bright spot.

There have been no drops. When Harris runs a route, he’s usually open. Despite this being just his second season of professional football, he feels he has a firm grasp on the playbook. After all, it’s similar to the offense he ran his senior year at Murray State.

Eli Manning has connected with the 24-year-old countless times, as has Ryan Nassib. But it’s the one player that will most likely never throw him a pass that Harris says is the biggest connection he’s made thus far.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Victor Cruz made the Giants’ roster as an undrafted rookie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

When the undrafted Harris showed up to Giants’ training camp last year, formerly undrafted Victor Cruz was the first to reach out. The Giants’ Pro-Bowl receiver told Harris to keep working, make plays when the opportunity is there and to do whatever it takes. Harris has followed the advice to a T.

“I felt so relaxed around him and latched on to him,” Harris said. “I look up to him as a role model with what he went through. Being undrafted, it’s tough. It’s not easy and it’s not going to be. I look up to how he fought and how he didn’t care he went undrafted.”

On the practice field, Harris is having a very Cruz-like impact on the Giants, something he credits to his time spent in the Arena Football League. After failing to make the Giants 53-man roster at the end of last year’s camp, Harris signed with the Iowa Barnstormers.

‘Soups,’ a nickname given to Harris by Philadelphia Eagles’ receiver Jeremy Maclin, finished the year with 94 receptions for 1,223 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also had 1,200 return yards. Going from the NFL, to the AFL, back to the NFL made the game slow down for Harris. Not only that, but he picked up a few tips and tricks along the way.

“Leverage, always attack the defensive back’s leverage,” Harris said. “I learned that in the AFL and I use it all the time here. Even though it’s the AFL and that’s a different kind of football, you can still translate it back to the NFL.

“I know if it’s a post route, I attack the inside leverage. If it’s a corner route, I attack the outside leverage. It kinda helped me out big time when I came back to the NFL.”

Harris knows that he, similar to Victor Cruz in 2010, faces a steep climb if he hopes to make the Giants’ roster. Cruz had a three-touchdown nationally televised preseason performance to help his cause. Harris’ first prime-time showing will be this Sunday’s Hall of Fame game.

There’s also the numbers game. Cruz, Randle, Beckham Jr. and Jerrel Jernigan are all but locks to make the Giants’ roster. Harris, Super Bowl-hero Mario Manningham, Trindon Holiday and Corey Washington are all competing for two spots.

If Harris is cut and clears waivers, he’s still eligible for the Giants’ practice squad, but that’s not good enough anymore.

“I was on the practice squad last year,” Harris said. “I don’t plan on being on it this year.”

Jul 272014
 
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Damontre Moore, New York Giants (August 10, 2013)

Damontre Moore has been impressive in year two – © USA TODAY Sports Images

His facial expression never changed from that same firm, determined look. His voice never once reached an octave above monotone.

Cullen Jenkins stood there, atop the Giants’ podium, camcorders and cameras staring back at him. Each media member threw question after question his way.

Nothing changed Jenkins’ tone or expression. Then, Damontre Moore’s name was brought up.

“To be honest, I’ve been surprised. Especially with Damontre,” Jenkins said. “His athleticism is hard to compare. From where he was last year, technique wise and some of the things he was doing, to how he came back in training camp… it’s amazing.”

The praise was just the beginning as the veteran continued to highlight the differences between rookie Moore and second-year Damontre. The one that was once considered a one-trick pony is suddenly much more.

Moore is setting the edge, making as many plays on the running back as he is the quarterback and his physicality has reached another level.

“You look at him now,” Jenkins said, “He’s a completely different player.”

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (December 1, 2013)

Damontre Moore – © USA TODAY Sports Images

What Moore has worked to develop over the offseason is being displayed to all on the Giants’ practice fields. In the team’s five practices, the former third-round pick has a ‘sack’ in four. When the Giants put on shoulder pads for the first time on Friday, Moore recorded two sacks on offensive tackle James Brewer. He had countless other pressures.

“I feel a little more comfortable out there, but as far as different? No, not really.” Moore said last week, “I’m just being the best I can be.”

Defensive line coach Robert Nunn has seen the same thing as Jenkins. This isn’t the same Damontre Moore. Nunn said the end has taken a “step forward” in year two. The Giants hope he’s right.

Mathias Kiwanuka is now 31 and has had never had more than eight sacks in a season. Last year, Kiwanuka was held sackless in four of the Giants final five games. If called upon, Moore is making sure he’s ready. That includes taking a page out of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders playbook.

Moore is sporting a brand new facemask, one he assures meets league regulations. Is it protective? Sure. But it also looks good.

“I guess it fits into that old saying,” Moore said laughing. “You look good, you feel good, you play good.”

Thus far, Moore’s 3-for-3.

Jul 272014
 
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Jacquian Williams, New York Giants (July 22, 2013)

Jacquian Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It was the single hardest time of his football career.

Not just professional, but little league, high school and college, as well.

Giants’ linebacker Jacquian Williams knew he could help his teammates each of the last two seasons. He knew he could make an impact on the field. The issue? Getting on it.

“Injuries, man. No one wants to be off the field,” Williams said. “I wanted to be out there to perform. I wanted to be out there with my teammates. For me to not be out there with them, it was disappointing.”

When he’s played, Williams has flashed the ability to be a difference maker in the NFL, dating all the way back to his rookie year. New York’s sixth-round pick in 2011 had the coverage skills and speed of a safety, with the size (6-3, 224 pounds) of a linebacker. In nickel packages, Williams would check in and assume a lock-down role on an opponent’s tight end.

Right off the bat, Williams experienced success. In his rookie season, the 26-year-old recorded 78 tackles, a sack and three fumble recoveries.

In New York’s Super Bowl run, Williams handled the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis in back-to-back-to-back games. In the Super Bowl, with Rob Gronkowski ailing, it was Aaron Hernandez.

Jacquian Williams, New York Giants (July 27, 2012)

Jacquian Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Since 2011, Williams hasn’t experienced the same success. In 2012, he missed six games with a PCL injury. Last year, it was his knee that cost him playing time. Williams hasn’t reached his rookie year tackle total in each of the last two seasons. When on the field, his immense success in pass defense was overshadowed by his inability to compete against the run.

It’s why this offseason Williams expressed a renewed determination in making himself a complete linebacker.

“I wanted to prove that I belong in this league,” Williams said. “I showed glimpses, but there were injuries. I’d show some good things, then some down things. My goal right now is to show I belong here and I’m here for a reason.”

When Williams reported for the Giants’ offseason conditioning program, the changes were easily noticeable.

“I will say this,” linebackers coach Jim Hermann said, “This OTA and minicamp, he has done a great job. He’s a natural WIL (linebacker) in nickel, but he did a great job with our WIL stuff in base. To me, he made a big jump and big improvements this spring.”

Williams said the coaches had approached him with a list of things to improve on last offseason. While he still admits he’s the same player, he knows he’s taken a much-needed jump. Now in his fourth year, Williams feels more settled and comfortable in the Giants’ defense. Not only does he feel he can make an impact for New York, but also prove he’s an elite-level player in the NFL.

He’ll have his shot. For the first time in his career, Williams is the Giants’ full-time starting WIL linebacker.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Williams said. “But look, I’m a linebacker. I’ve being doing this since little league. At the end of the day, it’s nothing new to me.”

Jul 262014
 
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Bennett Jackson and Charles James

Bennett Jackson and Charles James – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s a relatively common – and expected – occurrence at Giants’ training camp. Bennett Jackson, New York’s sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame, has questions, and he’s looking for the answers.

Be it a coverage assignment, technique or read conundrum, different things pop up at different times. When they do, Jackson knows exactly who to go to.

“I usually ask something to Charles James,” Jackson said.

Wait, Charles James II? The Giants’ second-year corner who went undrafted last year and made the team as a long shot?

“He usually has a pretty good understanding of everything and he’s quick to answer,” Jackson said.

Charles James, New York Giants (August 24, 2013)

Can Charles James crack the Giants final 53-man roster? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The budding friendship has blossomed since the Giants reported for training camp on Monday. Despite the fact both James II and Jackson are competing for potentially one available roster spot, the two have hit it off. James II knows he can text Jackson at any point in time. Jackson knows he can go to James II with any question that pops in his head.

While it’s not rare to have a rookie look to another player on the roster for help, the fact James II is supplying the answers may come a bit as a surprise. After going undrafted out of Charleston Southern last year, the 5-9, 179-pound James made the Giants’ roster last season.

The corner flashed on special teams in the preseason, made a few impact defensive plays and the Giants’ placed him on their practice squad as a reward. When injuries attacked New York’s secondary, it was James II who had his phone ring with the call up.

James II looks at Jackson and sees his own reflection from a year ago. There’s a wide-eyed rookie, brimming with potential, but needing someone to guide him to reach it.

“I know how it is to be a rookie,” James II said.“He’s trying to catch up with the entire process of being in the NFL. He just left Notre Dame, basically he was the man there, now he’s coming into a process where it’s moving faster.

“This is the NFL where those receivers are going to come faster. Those breaks are going to come quicker and he has to catch up in the playbook right away. I told him some of the things that I did to help me progress last year.”

While James II is helping Jackson, at the same time he’s helping himself. When Jackson has a question, James II can’t look back with a deer-in-the-headlights look. He challenges himself to make sure he can answer whatever Jackson throws his way. As soon as James II sees Jackson jogging of the field and headed his way, he knows it’s test time.

“He’ll come up to me and be like, ‘Hey Charles, what do I do in this coverage,’” James II said. “I’ll respond like, you do this, this and that. He’ll be like, ‘Oh, Ok.’ So it like refreshes my mind and it refreshes his. I’m just trying to be that helping hand.”

James II views himself as a “big brother” figure for Jackson, something Jackson may need more than anything right now.

Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (September 21, 2014)

Bennett Jackson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Not only is he a rookie, but Jackson also has limited experience at the cornerback position. Throughout his entire playing career, Jackson was a receiver. It wasn’t until his sophomore season at Notre Dame that he was approached about a position change.

When Jackson was a freshman, he didn’t see much time at wide receiver, but he played in every special teams’ package. He loved to hit people. This was his chance to do so.

Coaches loved the physicality Jackson displayed and saw the lack of bodies at the cornerback position. Next thing Jackson knew, he was in a new film room.

“I ended up doing a lot better than I expected,” Jackson said. “I actually ended up having a lot more fun.”

His initial struggles came from the transition of constantly running forward, to moving fluidly backwards. Route recognition was easy, after all, it wasn’t long ago Jackson was the one running them.

The doubt that once clogged his memory worked its way out. Towards the end of his sophomore season, Jackson was fully comfortable at his new position. While he missed scoring touchdowns and catching passes, Jackson admitted hauling in an interception gets him much more “hyped.”

It may take some time before the coaches feel fully comfortable putting Jackson on the field in the secondary as there are still many parts of his game that need to be refined. But there’s no hesitation in putting him with the special teams and letting him do what once brought him so much joy:

Hit people.

When asked his goal and what he’d like to accomplish on special teams this year, an ear-to-ear smile stretched across Jackson’s face.

“Be a beast,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”