Eli Apple stood across the line of scrimmage from Odell Beckham Jr. awaiting the snap count. First-round pick from 2016 vs. first-round pick — and eventual All-Pro — from 2014.
Here we go.
With Beckham split out wide to the right of the formation, Eli Manning called for the snap and dropped back to pass. After briefly looking over the middle, Manning turns toward Beckham and fires a pass toward the right corner of the end zone. But just as the ball gets there, Apple knocks it away.
It’s a scene the Giants hope is repeated often with Apple — albeit against live competition, not simply in practice, as was the case on Wednesday. The former Ohio State star, taken 10th overall in this year’s draft, saw extensive action with the first team during this week’s minicamp. He did not disappoint. Apple showed flashes of the form that convinced the Giants to spend their top pick on him.
Two plays after his pass breakup with Beckham, arguably the best receiver in the NFL, Apple forced an incompletion on the far less heralded Myles White, although Apple’s diving attempt was every bit as impressive as his interruption of the pass to Beckham. And on yet another play against Beckham, Apple won that man-on-man matchup, shadowing Beckham on a double move and leaping to knock the ball away.
“I think I had a pretty solid day,” Apple said afterward. “I tried to get my hand on a lot of balls today, because I got a lot of reps, for sure. It was fun being out with the guys and trying to improve on my technique. But there are things I still have to correct, especially with the adjustments I have to make.”
Apple is a significant piece of a Giants defense that underwent a sweeping makeover during the offseason. After finishing last in the NFL in 2015, a season in which the Giants blew six fourth-quarter leads, GM Jerry Reese went on a free-agent spending binge by signing defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and re-signing defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
The presence of Jenkins and another big-money cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, didn’t dissuade Reese from loading up on the position with Apple, considered one of the top cover corners in the draft and the second cornerback taken behind Jalen Ramsey, who went fifth overall to the Jaguars.
Apple knows this is just the beginning of the process toward becoming an elite cornerback, and there’s no guarantee that his excellence during a padless practice in minicamp will translate into the same performance level when the games begin in September. But there is at least a case to be made for him to figure into the Giants defense right from the start, even with Rodgers-Cromartie and Jenkins having locked down the starting jobs.
“I see a competitor out there,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of Apple.
Spagnuolo cautions, however, that Apple needs to be mindful of not making too much contact with receivers, lest he run afoul of the penalty flag-happy officials in a league that coddles receivers and allows only minimal contact from defenders.
Going against Beckham — and eventually Victor Cruz, who is being brought along slowly after recovering from a calf injury — in practice can only benefit the rookie defender.
“It’s definitely helpful because going against one of the best receivers in the NFL, Odell Beckham, and the other guys as well, even [rookie] Sterling [Shepard], he’s somebody that’s very quick and explosive,” Apple said. “I ask them questions as well, and they’ve been very helpful.”
Apple has been an early revelation on the field, but also inside the Giants’ training facility.
“I take football seriously,” he said. “I try to be early to every meeting and try to get in my playbook as much as possible.”
He can’t wait for his first training camp to start.
“I know we haven’t had a chance to hit, but that’s something you want to show the coaches, that you’re going to stick your nose in there,” he said. “Show them just how tough I am.”
Looks like they already know.