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Giants teammates have Eli Apple’s back — if he has theirs

Giants cornerback Eli Apple breaks up a pass

Giants cornerback Eli Apple breaks up a pass intended for Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin during a game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

At multiple points during this season, Giants teammates have had “sit downs” with Eli Apple to try to straighten him out. The general tone of those meetings, safety Landon Collins said, is to tell the second-year cornerback that his teammates have his back and see him like a brother.

But there is another message, too. One that is just as important as the support the players give to Apple. It’s about the support Apple gives back to them.

“We need him to be here,” Collins said. “We need him to want to be here and not fighting against us. If he’s fighting against the coaches or the organization or whoever he’s fighting against in his head, we don’t need him fighting us. That causes conflict.”

And it creates the situation the Giants now find themselves in.

Apple, last year’s first-round pick, has not played in four games. Three of those games were essentially coaches’ decisions to scratch him from the gameday lineup. On Wednesday, the young cornerback who should easily be starting for the team was taking reps with the second unit, with the scout team, and with the special teams groups.

And interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo said there is no guarantee that Apple will play Sunday against the Eagles.

“We’re kind of trying to oil him back up,” Spagnuolo said. “We’ll see where he is at the end of the week. At the end, you’ve got to make a decision on 46 players [to be active on gameday], so that’ll all unfold as the week goes on.”

Apple was not on the injury report this week. He was in the locker room after practice and when asked to speak with reporters he said he wanted to take a shower first. He never returned to answer questions.

“I don’t want to pass judgment on a kid’s attitude or character,” Spagnuolo said. “I think that’s just between me and him . . . I’m into building up and not breaking down. So, we’ll keep trying to build up.”

And get him back on the field.

“At some point, we’ve got to do that,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the goal.”

Think about how much has happened since Apple last played on Nov. 12 in San Francisco. They’ve benched and reinstated their starting quarterback, fired their head coach and general manager, and even managed to win a game against the Chiefs. And Apple, who the Giants were counting on to play an integral role for them this season, has been part of none of it.

Collins is not the first Giants player to express his concern regarding Apple publicly. Earlier this week veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie spoke about his talks with Apple, about trying to get the youngster to avoid some of the pitfalls that dogged the early parts of Rodgers-Cromartie’s own career. DRC also seemed put off by Apple’s in-game tweeting during Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, including the reposting of a highlight of the 81-yard catch and run by Rod Smith that sealed the game for Dallas (Spagnuolo said on Wednesday there would be “repercussions” from that incident, hinting at a possible fine).

The Giants players have so far been generous enough to chalk it all up to Apple’s off-the-field issues. His mother had brain surgery last month, but Collins said there is a lot more that he is dealing with this season.

“He’s got a lot of personal things going on in his life at this point,” Collins said. “I’m surprised he’s still here and didn’t step away from the game because most players would. That’s when you have to be a brother to him and tell him we’ve got your back.”

But they also need to expect the same in return. That’s why there have been the meetings with him, the requests to get him to pull in the same direction as the rest of the team when it feels as if he is going in the opposite direction.

Do those meetings work?

“At certain times,” Collins said. “It’s a within-him problem. It’s inside him that he’s fighting with. It’s just within him.”

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