All the ingredients are there for a nice homecoming tale.
Giants rookie defensive back Julian Love, who grew up in Chicago, returns to the city where he learned to play football and from where he says he draws his competitive nature.
Up in the stands at Soldier Field, where he used to sit and watch Bears games, will be friends and family coming out to support him. Down on the turf, he’ll be walking in the footsteps of some of his favorite players growing up such as Devin Hester, Peanut Tillman and Brian Urlacher.
“It helps you to have a little chip on your shoulder going back home,” Love said this past week. “It should be fun. I’m excited.”
The only potentially missing piece to the perfect narrative is that Love has to actually play. On defense. And so far this season, that hasn’t happened.
While the Giants have spent most of the year grooming and developing young players all over the field — Pat Shurmur noted that there have been 25 first- or second-year players who have started or been regular contributors to the team — Love has been locked to the bench. The fourth-round draft choice has played only three defensive snaps all season. That’s the fewest of anyone who has been on the active roster since opening day.
Will things be different this week?
“Hopefully,” Love told Newsday. “As it looks right now, we’ll see how the week progresses, but I’ve been seeing an increased role [in practice].”
That’s usually an indicator of an increased role in games. Love even grabbed a few reps with the starting group during the bye week workouts. And he saw a boost in his playing time on special teams in recent weeks, another typical sign of a promotion.
With the Giants at 2-8 and starting to focus on next year, they’ll likely want to see what Love has to offer before the schedule runs out of Sundays.
“I think Julian is close,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said of Love’s readiness.
Love was a cornerback at Notre Dame. He had the most career pass breakups in school history with 44 and was a finalist for the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award, given to college football’s top defensive back. The Giants selected him with the 108th overall pick and he looked and sounded the part of an NFL defender.
“When we first came in, I thought he was one of the best pure football players in our class,” fellow rookie Darius Slayton said of Love. “I think Julian is a heck of a player.”
So why the slow progress? He’s had to learn a new position at safety, which took time. He struggled with it in the preseason. And there has been a traffic jam on the depth chart ahead of him. The Giants have three veterans who rotate at the position in Jabrill Peppers, Antoine Bethea and Michael Thomas. They have a second-year player, Sean Chandler, who plays a bit as well. And they acquired linebacker Deone Bucannon, who has the size and speed of a safety and can play that role in some of the sub packages the Giants use.
All of which has led to a somewhat frustrating waiting game.
“As a competitor, everybody in this locker room wants to help or contribute in some way,” Love said of having to be patient. “When we’re losing, you do want to do anything to help the team. That’s kind of my thought process. Every chance I get to help in a positive way I want to, for this team and for our future goals.”
Love is starting to catch on, with the help of some whose snaps he soon may be snagging.
“I think AB [Bethea] has really helped him. I think AB has been a great guy in the room,” Bettcher said. “I sit in the DB meeting room a bunch and I hear AB [saying], ‘Hey, Julian, you see this? Recognize that? You see that? That’s why it’s this.’ They have some good dialogue and conversation.”
“He’s coming along good,” Bethea said. “But playing time is the best teacher, experience is the best teacher. I can sit down and talk to him and tell him what I see and what he should be looking for, but until he gets out there and plays, that will be his best teacher.”
That appears to be imminent.
Bettcher said any personnel adjustments the Giants make coming out of their bye week will reveal themselves on Sunday, but he noted that Love “will trend himself to a guy that’s going to make a push to have a chance to play and be a guy that helps us.”
Bethea was less subtle.
“He’ll get out there this week and I think he’ll make some plays for us,” he said.
If that does happen, the timing couldn’t be better. The location couldn’t be better.
“That would be nice,” Love said, grinning at the symmetry. “It’s a good story.”
A Love story. But only if he plays. And then plays well.