A lot has changed in the past few weeks in the life of Tommy DeVito.
He was called up to the game-day roster. Then he was elevated to the active roster. He made his NFL debut on Oct. 29 and scored a rushing touchdown. Last Sunday, he threw his first touchdown pass. This Sunday, he will be the starting quarterback for the Giants.
Quite the whirlwind.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is his address in the locker room.
The geography of that space generally gives the established guys on the 53-man roster a permanent spot along the two walls of the room, with small islands of the football equivalent of temporary housing in the middle of the floor. Those clusters of afterthought shelving are used by the transients on the team: players who aren’t around much because they are on injured reserve, tryouts who come in and out each week, and, yes, the members of the practice squad.
DeVito could have insisted on moving into a nice, spacious locker along the wall at any point since his role on the team started to change, first with the neck injury to Daniel Jones on Oct. 8, then as the quarterback situation became more and more dire. They would have found a place for him. They found one for Matt Barkley when he arrived.
Instead, DeVito made a decision to stay where he has been since he showed up for rookie minicamp, where he was throughout training camp and the first parts of this season, when he was just an anonymous body in a sea of star players.
His locker is staying put on that island of misfits, nomads and hopefuls.
“These are my people,” he said with a big smile, looking around at neighbors whose names could easily be typed here but whom you would never recognize.
It’s a small gesture, but a meaningful one.
As the Giants embark on the next two months of essentially futile football — on a journey that begins with what most predict will be a lopsided embarrassment on Sunday against a Dallas team that beat them 40-0 in Week 1 — it stands out for embodying the kinds of things this team needs more of.
Honor. Humility. Pride. Self-awareness.
All the things that last week, in the face of a defining moment for the franchise, one of their supposed leaders and captains failed to demonstrate for the second year in a row.
Xavier McKinney’s postgame comments in Las Vegas never quite landed on an actual issue and served to salve only whatever frustrations he was feeling at the time. It may have made him feel better to say that the defensive coaches weren’t listening to the leaders on the team, but it created the perception of conflict on a team that everyone now will be looking at hard for cracks. It hurt the feelings of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. More significantly, it hurt the Giants.
The coaching staff and front office will be watching over the coming weeks to see how the players respond to what is lining up to be a miserable slog through the back half of this schedule. They’re going to pay attention to the football parts, of course, and make sure that the youngsters on the roster keep developing their skills and techniques. They’re going to measure how much the veterans have left.
Most importantly, though, they will be gauging the attitudes and approaches each of them brings to every practice and every game. They’ll be on the lookout for displays like McKinney’s that will serve as red flags for the types they will want to jettison, and remembering actions such as DeVito’s locker preference and other subtle wisps of actual leadership that indicate traits they want to keep and cultivate.
“He’s got a little personality to him, and that’s good,” Brian Daboll said of DeVito. “He doesn’t try to be like any other players. He tries to be him, and I’d say that the players respect that. I think the defensive players like that a lot, too. He’s got a little bit of juice, a young guy that’s got a little moxie to him. He’s been good to work with.”
Ultimately that’s what the Giants want, players who are “good to work with.”
They have to be talented and productive and all the other things that have made them professional athletes, yes. But they also have to be able to handle adversity, even when it comes on the grand scale that this year has presented to the team.
Especially when that happens.
There are only so many of those lockers along the wall in the inner sanctum of the Giants’ facility. The nameplates slide out above all of them. The structures are permanent, the tenants are not. The spots in next year’s locker room will be earned by what is demonstrated during the course of the rest of this woeful season.