Jay Bromley’s left knee injury is not as devastating as it could have been.
“No significant damage,” the Giants defensive tackle said Monday, two days after getting hurt in the preseason game against the Jets when he was caught in a pile at the line of scrimmage and had his leg rolled up on. “Taking a look at all the headlines and all the guys with knee injuries, you just pray and hope that when you go for [an MRI], it’s not as bad as that.”
Bromley’s season won’t end. His tenure as a starter, however, could be in jeopardy.
If he is not ready to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 10 against the Cowboys — and with a knee sprain, that seems like an ambitious timeline — rookie Dalvin Tomlinson likely will take his place. And if that happens, it might become Tomlinson’s job for good.
Bromley has played well this summer, putting forth the best training camp and preseason of his career and earning the starting job. It’s always been as a placeholder for Tomlinson, though. Now that Bromley is on the sideline, Tomlinson seems poised to ascend to the position he and the Giants foresaw for him when he was drafted out of Alabama in the second round in April.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Tomlinson said Monday of his more-than-likely start against the Cowboys, who happen to have the top offensive line in the NFL. “I’m up to the challenge. They picked me to come here and play as a dominant defensive lineman, and that’s what I plan to do.”
The Giants think he’ll be able to do that, too.
“He’s a player that played at a tremendous level in the college game,” Ben McAdoo said. “He’s come in, he’s learned the system very well. He’s good with his hands, he plays with leverage, he destroys blocks. We feel he’ll be ready to play Week 1.”
Tomlinson could be the only rookie starter on a defense that is returning almost all of its key players. For a while, the Giants hoped tackle Johnathan Hankins would be back with the rest of the defense, but he signed as a free agent with the Colts in mid-April. Two weeks later, the Giants selected Tomlinson.
The only hiccup in what figured to be a smooth passing of the torch from Hankins to Tomlinson was the play of Bromley, one of this summer’s pleasant surprises. Now, if Bromley is out of the picture for more than a few weeks, the line of succession will be back to where it was projected to be.
It took Tomlinson some time to adjust to the Giants’ playbook. That, he said, caused him to be “timid” in the early stages of the preseason. Since shortly after the first preseason game against the Steelers, though, he has been playing faster and with more power.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way,” he said.
But it is to a place where he was always expected to arrive.
“I’ve seen some impressive stuff on tape,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said of Tomlinson. “I think we’re all ready for him to play.”
Tomlinson said he already has started thinking about what it will be like to not only play in the opening night game against the Cowboys but start at defensive tackle.
“It’d be amazing,” he said. “It’s one of the things you always look forward to, playing in a big game like that, especially in a season opener.”
If Tomlinson does start, he won’t be alone. He’ll be playing next to All-Pro defensive tackle Damon Harrison, just as he has throughout the preseason.
“It’s been pretty cool so far,” he said of being Snacks’ wingman up front. “He’s always critiquing me and making sure I do stuff right. He’s pretty much teaching me while I play beside him on the field. There are small things that I probably haven’t seen before that he’s helping me on.”
During games or just in practices?
“Pretty much both,” Tomlinson said with a smile.
There isn’t a lot that Tomlinson hasn’t seen, especially given that he came to the Giants from Alabama, which is about as close to an NFL team as college football has.
“It prepared me a lot simply because Coach [Nick] Saban has pretty much like a college NFL team, like a mini-NFL program,” Tomlinson said. “I feel like going there for five years helped me a lot.”
It also gives him a lot of prestige in a locker room filled with veterans who are not easily impressed.
“We don’t have anything of his body of work besides college, so it’s hard to say ‘he’s done this here’ when he hasn’t,” Casillas said. “From what I’ve seen so far, he’s very strong, he’s very physical, and we’re going to need that play from him.”
Tomlinson said despite all that preparation and grooming, he’ll still be a little queasy about playing against the Cowboys.
“I’m going to be pretty nervous,” he said. “I’m going to have a lot of butterflies. I have butterflies before every game, but that just means you care. So I’m going to be pretty nervous about it.”
At some point those nerves will give way, though, and Tomlinson will settle in as the Giants’ starting defensive tackle. Maybe even for years to come.