Jon Beason is just what the Giants defense needed
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In the midst of all the craziness that came with being traded, all the sweeping emotions of leaving behind the only franchise he had ever known and heading to a city he'd seen only glimpses of as a visiting player, Jon Beason called his friend.
"He was one of the first guys I wanted to talk to,'' the middle linebacker said this past week, three weeks to the day since the life-altering whirlwind that brought him to the Giants from the Panthers in a rare in-season trade. "I told him, 'I'm coming up there, and hopefully we can get this thing right.' ''
The friend was Antrel Rolle.
The two had been close since they played together for two seasons at the University of Miami -- Rolle actually hosted Beason on his campus visit when he was being recruited out of high school -- and remained tight throughout their NFL careers. On the other end of the phone from Beason, Rolle knew he was being told news that would alter his and the team's season.
They had just lost their fourth straight game. The defense was ranked last in the NFL. Rolle had been rubbing sticks together for a month trying to give his unit a spark, some life, but nothing caught.
"Thank God,'' Rolle said of his first thoughts when Beason shared the news. "That was literally my reaction.''
It was if a prayer had been answered.
"I was super, super excited that he would be playing alongside me, just knowing his capabilities, knowing what type of player he is, and more important than anything else, knowing how he loves the game and how he's going to attack the game,'' Rolle said. "We share a lot of similarities when you talk about playing the game of football. I love it.''
The rest of the Giants figured out pretty quickly what Rolle had anticipated: that Beason would be a difference-maker.
He played a few special-teams snaps in his first game with the Giants, which was against the Eagles. That was two days after he passed his physical and completed the trade. Four days after that, he was the starting middle linebacker for the Giants against the Bears. He had 12 tackles in that game, leading the team. Last week he had a team-high nine tackles.
The Giants have not allowed an offensive touchdown in the last six quarters with him in the middle.
The 'voice' they needed
Most would be surprised by how quickly Beason took ownership of the defense. Tom Coughlin smiled when asked if he was among them.
"Not with the quality of linebacker that we have,'' the Giants' coach said. "The quality of the player that came in, no, I'm not surprised.''
Neither is Beason. In fact, he said his ability to command the Giants' defense on short notice comes from his time with a former Giants coach.
"I can say that being a John Fox kid -- he drafted me -- we would come in on Wednesday and a lot of days we would have a new coverage, a couple of new blitzes,'' Beason said of the head coach of the Panthers during most of his career there. "If we were playing an opposing team that had a problem picking up a certain scheme or certain blitz package, we were going to run it to test them and see if they made the corrections. Getting a new defense you've never heard of on a Wednesday or a Thursday is pretty typical throughout my career, so I think it made the transition for me easier.''
The Giants have looked like a new defense since his arrival, both to outside eyeballs and those on the field.
"More crisp,'' Rolle said of the huddles with Beason in control. "He brings a sense of urgency that was needed. He brings that leadership ability. Middle linebacker, no matter who is on the defense, they're the center point of the defense. He's a voice that was very much needed. We needed a voice.''
The Giants hadn't had that voice since Chase Blackburn signed, oddly enough, with the Panthers during the offseason. They tried having Dan Conner and Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger call the plays, but nothing seemed to click.
"He definitely gives us a different attitude,'' cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "More than anything, he gets us lined up, and that's something we struggled with at times this season.''
He also gives the Giants something that not even Blackburn could. While Blackburn had an encyclopedic knowledge of the defense, he was physically limited as a player. In Beason, the Giants have a player who not only knows where to go but can get there.
"Now,'' Thomas said, "we have somebody who can do both.''
Making a Giant difference
The Giants may have him for a while. Beason will be a free agent at the end of this season, but he said he wants to be a Giant. For life.
"I don't plan on going anywhere, ever,'' he said. "Ever.''
That would be just fine with Rolle, as long as he's here with him. The first-year captain said having Beason aboard has taken some of the mostly self-assigned responsibility for carrying the team emotionally off his plate. Rolle no longer has to be full-time player and full-time cheerleader. "Him coming here has definitely helped me out in a tremendous amount of ways,'' Rolle said.
And, just as Rolle expected, helped the Giants, too. On Monday against the Vikings, the defense pitched a virtual shutout, and it was Beason who made the kind of small play that can go unnoticed in those efforts.
Midway through the second quarter, with the Giants leading 10-7, Beason came through the middle of the line of scrimmage and stuck Adrian Peterson for a 1-yard loss on second down. It had been years since a Giants linebacker had hit a running back like that, snapping his head back.
The Vikings threw an incomplete pass on third down and attempted a 53-yard field goal on fourth down that would have tied the score. It came up a yard short. Had Beason not made that tackle for a loss, the field goal might have been good. The score might have been tied. And the Giants still might be on their longest losing streak in almost 40 years.
After the game, Beason was asked about the Giants' defense seeming to have found its footing since he arrived. He talked about how he's just trying to get everyone lined up and do the best he can. But he couldn't resist making the connection that so many others have through two games, the one that Rolle made before he hung up the phone three weeks ago.
"Coincidence?'' he asked before flashing a knowing smile. "Maybe.''