Dexter Lawrence will try to replace Jabrill Peppers this Sunday.
Certainly not in the secondary, although the 342-pound defensive lineman did volunteer his services there if he is needed. "I can play safety," he said confidently, with only the hint of a grin.
But with Peppers’ availability against the Rams not looking good — he missed a second straight practice with an ankle issue on Thursday — Lawrence is far better suited to help occupy a different role that Peppers’ absence vacates.
"He is the energy guy," Lawrence said. "He brings a lot of energy to the group. Positivity. Motor. Things like that. Now you have to fill that void. Obviously he is an amazing player and we would obviously love to have him play, but now someone else has to take on that role and have that responsibility to be that guy."
It’s a demonstration of just how many parts of the team are out of sync by this one player’s injury, and how many players will be needed to plug the holes left behind.
When Peppers left the field early in last Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, the Giants had to do it on the fly. They played more base defense with just Julian Love and Logan Ryan at safety rather than a trio at the position, and toggled the two of them between the traditional free and strong spots.
"When you play with Jabrill you play with him as the down safety," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. "When we played with those other safeties we were more like rotating and they both played some down, both played some deep. We’ll look at what’s the best combination as we gameplan this week for what’s the best thing to do and we’ll try to do that."
If Peppers does not play on Sunday, at least they will have some time to decide what that is.
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham seemed to think that having Ryan and Love closer to the line of scrimmage than they normally are could be an advantage against the Rams in particular because of their backgrounds as cornerbacks.
"The great benefit of it is the man-to-man coverage skills," Graham said. "Ok, now you’re working with something there. You’re dealing with the Rams and these guys are all over the place, the shift motion, here comes the missile motion, things like that, and now you have guys and you say, ‘Oh, he can play this coverage, he can play that coverage.’ You feel more comfortable if you go with all of the man stuff and it gives you more flexibility with that… You’re talking about true cornerback skills [at safety]. That’s a positive right there."
That’s not to say the Giants are better without Peppers.
"Jabrill’s a good player and he’s a starter," Ryan said. "Any time you lose a starter, whoever you’re bringing in normally isn’t as good, that’s why that guy is a starter. There’s definitely an effect from that… We might’ve had to change some things on our end but I pride myself on my versatility. If I have to move from one position to the other, that’s what the team brought me here to do."
Peppers also has to be replaced on special teams, where he was the team’s primary punt returner and played on numerous units (he injured his ankle, in fact, on a snap with the field goal block team).
"Any time you have a player of Jabrill’s caliber that you have to replace, obviously it’s going to take a few guys to replace him because he did a bunch of different jobs," special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. "He means a lot to our football team that’s why he has a C on his chest. It’s hard to replace that guy but you just do the best you can, and the guys are going to step up. These young guys are going to step up and fill some of those roles and we’re going to keep plugging. We’ll see what happens."
Golden Tate likely becomes the punt returner, but McGaughey said that Darius Slayton and C.J. Board might also get some opportunities.
They’ll all be part of the process in replacing one of the team’s most versatile players. The Giants lost Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard to injuries and had backups to replace them. With Peppers, his jobs were far more varied and complex.
Filling in for him will be, too.
"The best situation would be to have Jabrill right there playing," Henderson said. "He’s been playing well and I hate it for the kid that he tweaked his ankle. I just hope to get him back soon."
And if all else fails, they can always give big Lawrence his chance back there.