Phillip Dillard doesn't remember what he sounded like when the Giants called him last week to tell him he'd been drafted. But he knows how he felt.
"I didn't want to sound like a little girl," he said of the squealing excitement that came over him, "but I was jumping up and down."
Dillard did manage to compose himself. At some point in the coming season, he'll have to do the same thing again. That will be when he steps into a Giants huddle at an OTA or minicamp practice and looks at the other players who are with him. Justin Tuck. Corey Webster. Antrel Rolle. And he'll have to tell them exactly what he wants them to do.
"Just looking at all of these guys who you see on TV and they're looking at you for a call," he said, anticipating the experience. "When you're younger, you're looking at them playing. You might be a little nervous, but it's time to go to work. That's something I'll have to kick out of."
For now, he's practicing on strangers. Dillard, a fourth-round pick from Nebraska, has been the middle linebacker with the first defensive unit throughout the rookie minicamp. And with that position comes the responsibility of running the huddle, calling the plays, and trying to help players get into the right position.
And right from these first workouts, Dillard's leadership is shining through.
"He's definitely taking command," said Adrian Tracy, drafted as an outside linebacker from William & Mary and the player who has been flanking Dillard for most of camp. "As a middle linebacker he's the quarterback of the defense. He has to set the front and get the coverage out. When he's getting it from the coach he's definitely assertive in his call and making sure everybody is on the same page. He's definitely helped me out a few times."
First-round draft pick Jason Pierre-Paul said he hasn't been trying to assert himself as a leader among his rookie classmates, but when asked who has, he pointed to Dillard. "The linebacker," Pierre-Paul said.
Dillard appears to be a natural at that kind of thing and, as Tom Coughlin pointed out, it's one of the main reasons he's here. He'll be competing with Jonathan Goff and Gerris Wilkinson and Chase Blackburn for the starting middle linebacker job during the summer. But Dillard seems to be just the kind of player the Giants are looking for.
"A solid football player who is smart, can help us get lined up, can especially help us on first and second down," Coughlin said when asked what he's looking for from whoever the middle linebacker is. "[Someone who] will earn the right to be a leader and perhaps be an individual who doesn't mind telling other people when they are not in position properly."
"The middle linebacker is important in anybody's scheme," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "He's an extension of the coordinator. He's a communicator. He has to get everybody set."
Dillard said he felt much more comfortable with the defense and its foreign terminology on day two. "Now it's starting to become second-nature," he said. And he's looking forward to becoming an expert on the system so he'll be able to tell the other 10 guys in the huddle, no matter if they are fellow rookies or All-Pro veterans, what they need to be doing and where they should be going.
And if he can do that without sounding like a little girl, all the better.