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Elerson Smith perseveres, finally gets in game for Giants

Elerson Smith #58, Giants rookie linebacker, heads off

Elerson Smith #58, Giants rookie linebacker, heads off the field after a day of training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021. Credit: James Escher

Elerson Smith missed out on his last season of college football because of COVID-19. He nearly lost his first season in the NFL to it, too.

Smith, a rookie fourth-round pick, was activated off injured reserve in time to make his pro debut and play two special teams snaps in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, but there were days leading up to that decision when he wasn’t sure it would happen. As the Giants dealt with a rash of false positive tests, Smith knew the clock was ticking on his chance to be added to the roster. Players who are designated to return have three weeks before they revert to season-ending IR, and with so much uncertainty on the entire team, Smith said he thought there was a chance he’d miss that window which was due to close this week.

"I just made sure I was staying ready," Smith told Newsday. "I didn’t want to get caught off guard."

He wound up getting just those two plays, but they were the first he’s had in a meaningful game since December 2019 when he last played for Northern Iowa. His college team’s 2020 season was moved to the spring of 2021 because of the pandemic, and by then he had already declared for the draft and was preparing for the NFL. On top of that, he hurt his hamstring before training camp even began this summer and was unable to practice in pads with the Giants until three weeks ago.

"Two years is a long time not to play football, especially when you are stepping up to such a high level," he said of the jump to the NFL and feeling a bit rusty. "But I really appreciate the challenge and the opportunity the coaches and the front office have given me."

The next step for the linebacker is to keep improving on special teams and maybe earn some reps on defense before the season is over.

"I enjoy football and my favorite part of it is rushing the passer," he said. "That’s something I’m looking forward to. Whenever the coaches say I’m ready, I’ll make sure I’m prepared for that."

Notes & quotes: The Giants waived CB Sam Beal, who was selected with a third-round supplemental pick in 2018 but played just nine games for the team, including one defensive snap on Sunday. His departure leaves the Giants with four openings on the 53-man roster with a list of moves (Trent Harris and Benardrick McKinney signing off practice squad, Andrew Thomas activated off IR, Gary Brightwell clearing COVID-19 protocols) expected to happen before they play their next game.

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