When the Ravens were putting their roster together for the 2021 season, they had two Pro Bowl cornerbacks. By the time the season started, they were down to one. Before it ended, they had none.
Season-ending injuries to Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, plus times when every other available cornerback was unable to practice or play, left them scrambling for bodies to put on the field.
Wink Martindale was the defensive coordinator for that team, and he took some hard lessons from the experience.
Now that he is with the Giants in the same capacity, and they are a team that has lost its Pro Bowl cornerback (albeit during the offseason and because of a contractual decision rather than an injury in the very late planning stages of the preseason), he is able to draw from the experience he went through a year ago.
The most important thing he learned?
“Don't go to DoorDash to find a backup corner,” he quipped on Thursday.
Sounds like someone who has received the wrong food order on an occasion or two. Or at least gotten stuck without the ranch dressing or pickles he asked for specifically.
The good thing for him and the Giants is they don’t need to rely on app-based service providers to help them replace James Bradberry. At least not yet. And while their pantry may not have all the ingredients they need, they have enough to cobble together a decent meal for this point on the football calendar.
Bradberry’s departure — he was released earlier this month before quickly signing with the NFC East rival Eagles — has thus far required two promotions to overcome. Adoree’ Jackson, who was the Giants’ No. 2 cornerback opposite Bradberry in 2021, now is at the top of the depth chart. Aaron Robinson, a second-year player who missed most of last season with a core muscle injury, jumps from the nickel position the Giants drafted him to play (and where he spent a good deal of his college career) to the outside and a starting role.
“When it happened with JB,” Jackson said of Bradberry’s long-expected release, “I texted the group and told them it's just an opportunity for us as individuals to do what we have to do and step up and go play and do something for ourselves.”
Jackson at least has NFL experience and has been a starter. The matchups with top receivers will be new for him, but the job itself won’t be.
Robinson, however, comes to his new role from a very different place. Not only was he sidelined most of his rookie season, but he now has to play a position that comes with very different rules and responsibilities than the inside slot coverage he initially was brought in to provide.
“I try not to think [that it’s] too much of a difference,” Robinson said. “Now I've got more sideline to work with. Other than that, it pretty much feels like it's coming along.”
The coaches have been pleased with his development.
“I’m excited for him to settle in a spot, give himself a whole offseason to learn the spot and get good quality reps, learn how to play the position, and I think he’s doing a good job,” defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said.
At the very least, their optimism is buoyed by the idea that Robinson is moving from a more complicated position to a more straightforward one.
“The game is slowing down for him, like any rookie going into his second year,” Martindale said. “But when you put him outside, I think it slows it down even more from being inside. It's like walking down the middle of the street when you're inside compared to the outside, where you're just standing on the sidewalk and you see things a lot better, a lot easier.”
Replacing Bradberry will be the defensive storyline of the season, in particular those two weeks when the Giants face the Eagles. Jackson said it “hurts” to lose such a good player and close friend, but it’s even worse that he went to a rival.
“At the end of the day, he’s still family and I still wish him the best and wish him well regardless of everything that's going on,” Jackson said, noting that he and Bradberry already have started talking about a jersey swap when they face each other.
Other players might be able to help fill the hole left by Bradberry. Since the draft, the Giants have signed three other cornerbacks in Michael Jacquet, Maurice Canady and Khalil Dorsey. They have been giving outside reps to rookie Cor’Dale Flott, who, like Robinson a year ago, was drafted primarily as a nickel. Before or during training camp, they might even add another veteran to provide balance and experience to the group.
“This is a tough profession,” Martindale said of the constant turnover and adjustments that need to be made.
Perhaps not as difficult and disheartening as having a meal delivered without the side of fries, but tough nonetheless.