A year ago rookie cornerback Eli Apple was struggling to figure out NFL rules when it came to covering receivers. A physical cover man in college, Apple had to be taught to stop holding and grabbing opponents. A flurry of yellow flags was thrown his way in practices and the coaching staff even contemplated taping up his hands so he could not use them in a traditional way.
This year, it’s the opposite.
“Eli Apple is a physical corner,” Ben McAdoo said this week. “I want him to be more handsy. I want him to be physical with his paws and play physical football.”
Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot Apple is looking for.
“I think playing DB is definitely the hardest position, to me, outside of quarterback,” Apple said. “It’s just finding that balance of being handsy, not too handsy, but to the point where you’re disrupting the timing.”
Apple said the test of facing the Giants offense is helping him work on those skills.
“That’s what we’re taught,” Apple said. “As DBs, we want to make it as hard as possible on the offense. Especially with a timing offense like ours during practice. So, with us, we’ve got to get our hands on them and stop the offense because they’re always on a clock to get the ball to the best guys. That’s Odell, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard. So, if we can disrupt the timing, it makes our job a lot easier, for sure, on defense.”
Sometimes that leads to frustrations, like this week when Apple got tangled up with Odell Beckham Jr. in the end zone during a drill and the two exchanged shoves. That was a good sign for the defense. Other times it isn’t as effective, like when Marshall held Apple off with his left hand to make a one-handed catch in the end zone.
Apple did not practice on Thursday because of an ankle injury. It was mostly precautionary.
“Just got kicked a little bit going against some of the receivers,” he said of the action in Tuesday’s practice. “It kind of bruised up after practice, but it’s not a big deal.”
His attention is focused more on his hands than his ankles this season, adjusting what he worked on last year with what he hopes to accomplish this year.
“Every year is a new challenge for sure,” he said.