DeAndre Baker has had a strong spring. The rookie cornerback has worked his way up to reps with the first team on defense, he’s made a daily habit of batting away passes from proven NFL receivers and he’s absorbed the playbook. He’s also proved to himself and others that he can be an important piece of the Giants’ defense this season.
He’s given the Giants everything they could want from a first-round pick.
But he has a lot more to give.
Because of the physical limitations of the offseason program that prohibit intense physical contact between players, Baker has had to play off of the receivers he’s been covering and work primarily on his mirroring and shadowing skills. Those are good, but not his strongest attributes. It’s Baker’s ability to get up in the face of a receiver, slug it out at the line of scrimmage and bend an opponent with his press coverage that made him the top cornerback in college football last year. He has yet to be able to flash any of it for the Giants, who wrapped up their three-day minicamp on Thursday.
Usually it’s the big linemen about whom coaches reserve judgment at this time of year, waiting for players to graduate from shorts and T-shirts to full pads in late July before making assessments. Baker, though, falls into that category.
“The corners are at a little bit of a disadvantage because there is no bump and run [in the spring],” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “Part of [Baker’s] charm was his ability to play up on a receiver and bump him. We think we’re going to see more good stuff once training camp gets going.”
How much is Baker held back by the rules of engagement? Fellow rookie Darius Slayton may know best. He faced Baker in the SEC each of the past two years when he was at Auburn facing Georgia and is one of the few Giants in camp who knows firsthand what it’s like to be covered by him.
Slayton said Baker has spent the spring “playing with one hand behind his back.”
“That is probably his strongest point, being able to press up on guys and just straight lock them down,” he said. “On the field, he’s sneaky strong. This past year we played each other and it was a back-shoulder ball and I was basically going to just run into him and kind of bump him off. I ran into him and we just kind of stalemated, so he was a little bit stronger than I thought he was. He’s a good player . . . I think when he has a chance to be able mix it up, I think you’ll see his best ball.”
That’s promising considering how good he has been already. But Baker isn’t complaining about the lack of contact. He’s embraced it, used it to work on other aspects of his game.
“It’s all off-coverage and mirroring the guy and getting your feet better, that’s all you can do right now,” Baker said. “If the receiver gets a free release without pressing, it’s kind of hard. It makes you better with your different techniques. So, it’s good.”
Still, Baker is looking forward to training camp when the popping can start and all restrictions are off.
“I love the pads,” he said. “That’s still to come.”
Notes & quotes: Offensive tackle Nate Solder said he expects to be ready when veterans report to training camp on July 24 after having ankle surgery late in the offseason, but he gave no guarantees. “I’m on a great path right now and am getting better every day,” he said . . . The Giants ended mandatory minicamp with a short practice on Thursday but have four days of voluntary OTAs remaining next week before they break for the summer. “I think we got a lot done this week,” Shurmur said of the minicamp. “I feel really good about how our team is coming together.” . . . Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a wrist injury, returned to participate on Thursday. . . . Linebacker Jake Carlock (Babylon, LIU Post) missed a second straight practice because of soreness in his lower leg.