TODAY'S PAPER
Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsFootballGiants

Giants rookie Xavier McKinney just trying to fit in after injury

Xavier McKinney at Giants practice.

Xavier McKinney at Giants practice. Credit: Giants.com/Matthew Swensen

Had Xavier McKinney not fractured a bone in his left foot in training camp that required surgery and forced him to miss most of the season, the Giants might not have signed cornerback Logan Ryan to a one-year deal to replace him.

They wouldn’t have signed Ryan to the three-year extension they agreed to last week, either, after he spent the year becoming one of the most valuable pieces in Joe Judge’s vision of the Giants’ future, both on and off the field. Ryan has become a cornerstone for the organization’s rebuild.

Which means McKinney’s greatest contribution to the Giants so far might have been getting hurt.

With one game left in his first regular season, though, the rookie defensive back would like to add something else to his resume. Despite being back on the field for the past month and playing a versatile role for the defense, the second-round pick has yet to come up with the kind of splashy play he was making just about every day in training camp and for which he was known during his career at Alabama.

For a player who was much ballyhooed out of college and whose return from injury was breathlessly chronicled in anticipation of him being a game-changer, McKinney hasn’t done much to make himself noticed. On the television broadcasts of games, his name is rarely mentioned.

The lack of mistakes that has led to that kind of anonymity is terrific. The lack of impact plays, not so much.

"I know it will come," McKinney said this week. "I’m not trying to force anything. Just trying to make sure I do my job and make sure I execute for the team."

It nearly came last week against the Ravens. Lamar Jackson threw a pass over the middle but McKinney slipped and was unable to make a play on the ball, which fell incomplete. He also was about 2 yards out of position at the snap of the ball, secondary coach Jerome Henderson said.

"If he stays on his feet, I think he has a chance," Henderson said. "He told me: ‘I missed that. I should have made that one, Coach.’ You like when they understand that gosh, they missed it, here’s why they missed it. The next time he is in that position, I expect him to make it."

"I knew it was coming actually before it was snapped," McKinney said. "Me and Logan talked about it before that play was actually played. I was a step behind. I should’ve went a little earlier. I definitely would’ve made a play on that.

"There have been a couple plays where I feel like I was really close to it that I didn’t get. Like I said, the plays are going to come. For me, I’m just going to keep making sure I execute my job and do what I have to do for the team."

Lately, that’s meant playing more cornerback than safety. It’s a change from where he was lined up in training camp because, well, that job now belongs to Ryan. In the past few games, with fellow rookie Darnay Holmes sidelined by a knee injury, McKinney has replaced Holmes as the nickel back in the slot.

"At Alabama, I thought he did a lot of things for them," Henderson said. "He played outside, he covered in the slot, he played deep, he was a really good tackler. So with Darnay down, it was a chance to move him inside and allow him to use some of those skills, and then when we went to dime, we moved him back. So he’s got a chance to do a little bit of both, to play some safety, play some what we call our star position, and just continue to get reps and to grow."

Where he’ll fit into the secondary next year remains just as nebulous as where he’ll fit on Sunday against the Cowboys. Ryan will be back, as will Jabrill Peppers, James Bradberry, Julian Love, Holmes and many other pieces in a young secondary. It’s a good problem for the Giants to have, and one of the reasons that sold Ryan on avoiding free agency and sticking around.

"I think it’s great to have stability in this business," Ryan said. "I love coming to work with these guys."

McKinney said he isn’t worried about roles.

"For me, it’s always whatever I’m asked to do," he said. "I think we can all do different things, we can all play in different spots, whether that’s playing low or that’s playing in the slot, playing in the box, playing half field, playing the middle field. Whatever I’m asked to do, I’m able to move around wherever, whenever, and do whatever at a high level. I think that will be my role."

And, of course, be the kind of player who can contribute to Giants wins in more ways than by getting hurt.

New York Sports