Donte Deayon covered receiver Dwayne Harris all the way across the field until they reached the sideline and Deayon dived for the pass. He broke it up, a good solid play by the second-year cornerback. But he was disappointed.
“I definitely should have come up with that one,” he said after the workout, lamenting the near interception. “Gotta come up with that one.”
Deayon knows how significant a seemingly insubstantial play like that can be. A year ago he was in training camp with the Giants as an undrafted free-agent rookie out of Boise State. He gained immediate respect and attention from the coaches and his teammates because of his firecracker personality, positive attitude and competitive nature. None of that, though, was enough to earn him a spot on the team.
He was waived in the final roster cuts.
After a lifetime of dreaming of playing in the NFL, he came up short.
Deayon was brought back on the Giants’ practice squad for the start of the season, and he spent the first month or so of the season before going on injured reserve with a leg injury. Now he’s back for his second training camp with the Giants, and driven by last year’s disappointment.
“Not making the team drives me more than being close,” Deayon said. “Not making it put that hunger in me that I’m not just here to be on the practice squad or not make the team. I’m here because I want to be on the team and that put the hunger in me to keep working, keep working, keep working.”
The coaches and players love him. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo gushes about him every chance he gets. Even Ben McAdoo seems to have an affinity for him.
“He brings a lot of energy to our practice,” McAdoo said. “We like that about him. He gets football, he’s been well-coached. He responds well to coaching. He’s a competitive, fiery kind of guy. He’s a good player for us.”
So why, then, wasn’t he on the team?
Deayon said no one ever told him directly. He missed some time last year in training camp with a hamstring issue that dampened his chances. He also looked a bit overmatched when on the field in some of the preseason games. His lack of size — he’s generously listed at 5-9, 163 pounds — didn’t seem like much of a handicap in practices but in games when he was asked to play outside coverage it became noticeable.
“You have to win the coaches over, you have to win the whole organization over by making plays, staying healthy, staying out of trouble, and being a guy they can count on and trust,” Deayon said. “You have to gain trust to be on that field. Your teammates have to trust you as well. They’re going to expect you to do your job when you’re out there.”
That’s why plays like Saturday’s pass breakup (or missed interception, depending on your perspective) loom so large. As will others for the rest of this summer when it comes to evaluating whether Deayon will make this year’s squad out of camp.
After a year he described as a red-shirt experience, an offseason spent working with NFL-caliber players, and a sense of belonging and confidence that comes from being back in a familiar place, is he in a better position to do that now?
“Who’s to say?” he said. “I’m trying to make strides. I’m working on taking it a day at a time and just keep stacking good days after good days. I’m not really looking ahead right now. I’m focused on what’s happening right now.
“Just really keep working,” he added. “That’s about it.”