It's hard to go unnoticed when you are 6-2 and 320 pounds, but Johnathan Hankins does a pretty good job of it.
He may be the most important piece of the Giants' defense this season, a player they will rely on to improve their sorry run defense and bolster their pass rushing. Yet he can pretty much walk around in anonymity, even as he saunters off the practice fields of training camp past droves of fans screaming for autographs.
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They want Eli. They want Cruz. They sure as heck want Beckham. Yet Hankins slips past with a smile and a wave.
It's the world he lives in. So critical, and yet so transparent.
He probably was one of the team's top defensive players (albeit on a bad defense) last season, and many of the websites that use numbers and analytics to rank players routinely name him as one of the big up-and-comers in the NFL. He could be poised for a Pro Bowl push if the Giants put up respectable stats as a unit this season. But a defensive tackle rarely is a star, and for Hankins, that's fine.
"I won't say it bothers me as long as I'm out there stopping the run and doing what I have to do," he said of being overlooked by many fans.
One of the few ways for a 4-3 defensive tackle such as Hankins to get on highlights and get his name noticed is to accumulate sacks. He flashed a bit of that last season, posting seven of them. Not only does he think Steve Spagnuolo's new schemes will help him take down quarterbacks this year, he believes that by showing he can hassle passers, he'll be on the field more often on passing downs.
The Giants usually like to slide defensive ends to the inside in those passing situations to get more pass rushers on the field. It's the idea of the NASCAR package that Perry Fewell used. Which means Hankins not only is competing with defensive tackles for playing time but has to perform better than the ends.
"I think they'd have four ends out there if they could," Hankins said. "The year I had last year, getting pushes and getting sacks, I think it's opened the eyes of the coaches that they can leave me out there on third downs just to give the ends a break.
"Sometimes they get caught in there on the running downs and they're not too happy with that. But that's what happens when you want to rush the passer inside."
Defensive line coach Robert Nunn said he'd like to use Hankins more on passing downs.
"He kind of started showing up a year ago. When we would get in one-on-one pass rush, he was doing some good things and he got his opportunity and took advantage of it," Nunn said. "If he's producing, he's definitely going to be in there. He's definitely going to have that opportunity to get in there in some rush situations."
Having Hankins doing that should help the entire defense.
It might even make him a more recognizable presence both on and off the field.