Eli Apple didn’t know the old Landon Collins. He wasn’t around when Collins was a rookie, at times looking overwhelmed and overmatched as a starting safety in a patchwork secondary. The only Collins he saw up close was the All-Pro version that emerged last season to become a force for the Giants’ defense while Apple himself was going through his sometimes bumpy rookie year.
That doesn’t mean that Apple was unaware of the jump Collins made from his first to second year in the NFL.
“It was tough not to pay attention to it because that’s what everybody was talking about last year,” Apple told Newsday after the Giants’ organized team activities Friday.
This year, Apple would like to follow Collins’ trajectory with his own sophomore surge. He’d like to leap from a solid but unspectacular rookie campaign to become a standard-bearer for the defense. And he’s using Collins as a bit of a road map.
“You have to take a more serious approach about everything, you have to be able to be a grown man about things,” Apple said. “Landon, he does a lot of things for himself outside of football. That means getting his body right, working on recovery and stuff. That’s something I need to work on and something I’m working on now.”
And something he’s been working on all offseason. Training in Arizona, Apple put on nearly 10 pounds of muscle since last season ended. He was at 195 throughout college and for most of last year but now weighs 204. And while that strength will help him be a better, more physical tackler and allow him to contend with big-bodied receivers at the line of scrimmage, it has not had an adverse effect on his speed. Last week, in fact, he said the GPS chip the Giants use to track players during practices registered that he’d never been faster since joining the team as last year’s first-round pick.
“It’s the truth,” he said with a grin when challenged about the reading.
It was during that pace-setting practice on May 25 when Apple tweaked his hamstring, and he hasn’t been on the field with the team for any important activities since. He said he hopes to be back on the field before the offseason program ends in two weeks. Even if he’s not, his mental comfort with the defense is improving each day.
“I’m 10 times ahead of where I was last year,” he said.
The physical alteration, though, is what’s most noticeable at first glance. He credited the change to hard work and diet, getting rid of the junk food and telling his mother to make less fried chicken for him. But he also took it upon himself to learn how to cook a bit, took more responsibility for his actions and decisions and, as he said of Collins, tried to become “a grown man.”
Apple’s physical transformation during his first offseason in the NFL also rings of Collins, although the safety lost weight instead of gaining it to come back sleeker and more agile.
None of this means that Apple automatically will follow Collins’ ascension. And he knows that.
“You have to be your own self,” Apple said. “You can’t just look at one guy and be like, ‘This is how it’s going to work for me.’ But you can try to take little things that you learned from his jump and try to implement them into what you have going on.”
And hopefully, Apple said, even if the paths are different, the results will be similar.