Some NFL careers begin with a bang.
Big catches, key tackles, acrobatic interceptions, they’re all ways for rookies and players trying to make teams in preseason games to get an immediate name for themselves. The Giants have had a few such debuts over the years that have been so impressive that they foretold the successful careers that would follow. From Jeremy Shockey’s rumbling Hall of Fame Game debut to Victor Cruz’s three touchdowns against the Jets in the first game ever played at MetLife Stadium, those impressions can leave a lasting impact on how fans — and the franchise — see their young talent.
It seemed as if Darrian Beavers was going to have one of those great origin stories on Thursday night.
The sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati wound up starting the game against the Patriots when Blake Martinez didn’t make the trip. On the second play, a second-and-1, he made a great read, shot through the hole and had running back J.J. Taylor in his sights for a loss of yardage.
It was the type of play the big, imposing run-stuffer was brought here to make, and here he was, a minute after jogging onto an NFL field for the first time, about to do it.
“I remember the very first play I was in the huddle thinking ‘this is my dream come true, I’m here now,’ ” he said. “And then I missed the tackle. Had a TFL [tackle for loss], come through, and missed the tackle.”
Taylor wound up running for 5 yards and a first down, and the drive continued. So did Beavers’ night. He wound up with an overall strong performance, finishing with three tackles on his 27 defensive snaps, and eventually had a tackle for a loss, hitting running back Kevin Harris with the force of a wrecking ball on his route and drilling him two yards behind the line of scrimmage just as the pass arrived.
But when the game was over, Beavers still was fretting over the one that got away.
“I should have gotten a little bit lower. I should have led with my left foot and made the tackle, if you want to get into the technical part,” he said. “It’s something you have to look at and correct.”
He almost certainly will do both. Despite that inauspicious first opportunity early in the game, the Giants remain very high on Beavers’ abilities and makeup.
A former safety in high school, a former defensive end at UConn, a former outside linebacker after transferring to Cincinnati before eventually moving to an inside linebacker role, Beavers is just the kind of versatile athlete defensive coordinator Wink Martindale loves to use in his schemes.
Beavers eventually may become a mainstay in the system that helped make Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and C.J. Mosley star players.
“That’s a position I’ve coached in this league forever so I’m the toughest on that one,” Martindale said. “They [Beavers and fellow rookie inside linebacker Micah McFadden] have accepted the challenge and accepted me.”
The Giants think so much of Beavers that on the second defensive series of Thursday’s game, with most of the starters still on the field, they had him calling the defense.
“I think he’s an instinctive player,” coach Brian Daboll said. “He’s got good size and length. There were some really good plays he had and some plays that we need to correct and teach from so that next time we’re a little bit better at them. But he’s a young man that loves football, that has good intelligence, that’s tough, that’s dependable. He’s a good young player to work with.”
Beavers might not get another opportunity to start again if Martinez is able to return at full capacity before next Sunday’s preseason game. He’ll certainly see plenty of snaps in the two remaining preseason games and likely throughout the regular season if he continues to soak up the playbook and deliver teeth-rattling hits.
But he’ll never have another first game in an NFL stadium like he did on Thursday night.
“I was just nervous out there,” he said. “Everyone was, all the rookies were. For me, it was trying to calm my nerves and focus and play football like I have my whole life.”
Missing that early tackle would have been a great beginning for him, a great way to punctuate the story he will tell for the rest of his life.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said with a sigh. “But I have to be honest. I missed the tackle . . . Welcome to the NFL.”