Not even Austin Calitro has been able to keep up with Austin Calitro.
Asked to name all the stops in his serpentine NFL path so far, the linebacker was only able to get most of them correct.
“I was with the Jets for like 10 days and then I went to Cleveland,” he said of the start to his rookie year as an undrafted player from Villanova in 2017, stumbling before he even listed the second stopover.
“No, no, no,” he said, erasing Cleveland for a moment, “I went to San Francisco, Seattle, /then/ Cleveland, and back to Seattle.”
Jacksonville, Cincinnati. Traded to Denver. Back to Cincinnati.
“And the Bears are in there somewhere,” he said, almost giving up on the task.
It’s been a Johnny Cash career. He’s been everywhere, man.
Where he is now, though, may be one of the biggest surprises of the whole journey.
A week ago Calitro was fighting to earn a roster spot with the Giants after a strong training camp and preseason then sweating through his temporary release from the team for what amounted to a day off (the Giants cut four veterans before re-signing three of them in some roster gymnastics). As of Tuesday he was their de facto starting inside linebacker, taking the place of recently released Blake Martinez on the practice field and on the unofficial depth chart.
Come Sunday, he’ll be one of the players trying to stand between Titans running back Derrick Henry and the end zone.
He wasn’t even on the 90-man roster at the start of training camp, signing just a few days into the summer workouts, and six weeks later he is one of the most important pieces in the team’s defense.
“I just wanted to come in and work as hard as I could,” Calitro, 28, said of his goals when he arrived. “I’m thankful they have given me this opportunity to go out there and keep doing it.”
While most of his career has been spent as a vagabond practice squadder – there were times when he was living out of a duffel bag, buying winter clothes depending on which city he was in -- Calitro does have some experience playing and even starting in the NFL. He hasn’t done the latter, though, since 2019 when he started the last three games for the Jaguars.
Since then he has played mostly as a special teamer seeing defensive snaps in just one game in the last three seasons, those coming in the regular season finale for the Bengals who were resting their regulars for a playoff push that landed them in the Super Bowl (Calitro did not appear in any of Cincinnati’s postseason games).
“I’m definitely excited,” Calitro said of his upcoming role Sunday, if not technically on the field for the first play as a starter certainly rotating in with regularity. “I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to come back around. I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of getting a front office and coaches who believe in me and I found that here.”
As excited as the Giants seem to be about Calitro, even if it is out of necessity – “Tough, dependable, smart,” coach Brian Daboll said of him – the outside perception is far less optimistic. That goes for the entire inside linebacker group which, suddenly sans Martinez, consists of Calitro, Tae Crowder, rookie Micah McFadden, and, in a pinch, Carter Coughlin or Cam Brown.
“What people don’t realize right now is, especially in the linebacker room, we have a bunch of guys who are going to come in every day and grind,” Calitro said. “We’re all jelling good and the chemistry is there right now… I’m excited to see where we go.”
And for the first time in a while, perhaps, excited about where he isn’t going.
“I actually grew up like 45 minutes from here,” he said of his roots in Danbury, Connecticut. “There’s a little more comfort here and I don’t have to travel all over the place. My dog is right down the road with my family.
“This is home for me.”