Johnathan Hankins is ready to fight for his job. Literally.
The second-year defensive tackle stepped into the boxing ring this offseason, a new addition to his training regimen that he hopes will help improve his hand speed and agility in the tight confines near the line of scrimmage.
"When you're working with the offensive linemen, you're so close with each other it really helps you learn how to use your hands when you're in real tight," he told Newsday. "That's one thing I feel like I've been doing a lot better this year in OTAs and minicamp, being able to work in close. Last year it wasn't my biggest thing. I've been trying to focus on that and I'm starting to see improvement."
There are also other benefits that he's seen from his fisticuffs, which he practiced in Ohio.
"I got tired of doing the regular stuff, lifting weights and running and doing all of that stuff, so I tried it and I liked it," he said. "It's crazy cardio."
Hankins is expected to step into the starting defensive tackle position opened by the departure of Linval Joseph this offseason. That's a big role to fill in the middle of the defensive line.
"I feel like I'm up for it," Hankins said.
That's not to say he'll be handed the job. Markus Kuhn has also impressed coaches in the offseason after playing a limited role last year while recovering from ACL surgery in 2012. The Giants have other options as well including Mike Patterson and recently drafted Jay Bromley. That depth was one of the reasons they let Joseph walk to the Vikings without much of a fight.
"You knew eventually that spot was going to be open and it was going to be a battle for it," Hankins said. "We've got some good d-tackles who are trying to win the position. I'm going to do the best that I can to win it. May the best man win."
Hankins does seem to be the front-runner. One website, ProFootballFocus.com, named him the Giants' "secret superstar" this offseason even though he did not have any starts and played less than 200 snaps in 2013.
"I heard about it, I read it," Hankins said with a big grin. "It's a pretty nice piece. But they can say whatever they want, when the time comes and I'm not out there, there's something wrong. I just have to keep working like when I first got here, get better every day and keep that same mentality, and hopefully I can get the spot."
And if he doesn't, is there any chance he can make a switch to pro boxing?
"I'm not even thinking about that right now," he said. "I don't mind watching it, but I don't have time to be in there getting my head knocked out."