If you are trying to start over, you might as well go all the way back to the beginning.
So that’s what Corey Coleman did.
His first real impact for the Giants since they signed him to their practice squad on Oct. 18 came doing something he hadn’t done since his freshman year in college: returning kickoffs.
“I brought one to the house,” he recalled of his previous venture with the responsibility. “Against Iowa State. It was like 97 yards.”
On Monday against the 49ers, he had three chances. All of them were explosive even though two were stymied by penalties. The third went for 51 yards and helped set up a Giants touchdown in the third quarter.
“It was kind of natural to me,” Coleman said. “That’s how I feel when I get back there. It gives me a thrill. I was extremely excited.”
It also showed the Giants something that not every team had seen from Coleman, and that’s a willingness to do anything that will help win games.
Coleman landed with the Giants after a tumultuous few months that soiled his standing a bit.
He was traded away from the Browns, a team that had used a first-round pick on him in 2014, a divorce in the making that ended up being broadcast on the HBO show “Hard Knocks.” It was an unflattering depiction of Coleman, making it seem as if he demanded to be traded because he was getting second-team reps early in training camp. While Coleman insisted that was not a full or fair portrayal of the whole situation, his next few weeks did little to soften a quickly eroding reputation.
The Bills, who traded for him, released him at the end of the preseason. He signed with the Patriots on Sept. 11 but was released by them less than a week later in a move that made room on the roster for Josh Gordon. He spent a week back on the Patriots’ practice squad before the organization parted with him completely.
For almost a month after that, he was an unemployed former player wondering if he’d ever get another chance in the NFL. Then the Giants called with an opportunity. They wanted to give him a look — at both his playing abilities and his attitude — so they made the low-risk addition to their practice squad. On Oct. 24, he was added to the 53-man roster.
“I’ve gained a fast appreciation for him,” Pat Shurmur said. “Very energetic, really into it, trying to learn everything.”
Coleman said he is glad the Giants have accepted him for who he is, not the public perception of him that had floated around since August.
“I feel that there’s no pretending,” Coleman said. “They understand me. The coaches, the players understand me. My job is to come in and work as hard as I can to get an opportunity.”
FINDING A PLACE ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The first coach to get his hands on Coleman was special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey. Whatever baggage Coleman brought with him to the Giants was quickly put aside.
“I don’t get into all that, the stuff that happened before,” McGaughey said. “All I can do is take him for what’s going on in front of me. He’s been great in our meetings, he’s been very receptive to coaching, he listens to everything we say, and he’s doing a good job.”
McGaughey had followed Coleman’s career before he joined the Giants. He’d worked with Art Briles, Coleman’s former coach at Baylor, so he’d paid attention to Briles’ games and remembered Coleman’s kickoff returns as a freshman.
McGaughey said Coleman has two necessary ingredients for a good kickoff returner — speed and vision.
“You’ve got to be able to see it and obviously got to be able to get there,” he said. “Corey possesses both. He does a good job of fielding the ball and he has some mobility. He’s a first-round draft pick for a reason. Definitely has some big-time ability.”
It’s a job Coleman likely will keep for a while, but the Giants want to get more out of him. He’s caught one pass on offense, but the Giants think he can quickly develop into another part of their offensive attack.
“It’s baby steps,” Shurmur said. “You forget that he’s only been here a couple of weeks. He had an impact on special teams. He had an impact in the game. He caught the curl and that was a big catch, so we’ll just keep getting him reps, getting him in there and most of our progressions and he’ll be involved. We’ll just see what kind of production he has.”
Shurmur said the good thing about wide receivers is they don’t need to know the whole playbook and can be used situationally until they find their footing. For someone like Coleman who joined the Giants with the season already underway, that’s a good thing.
“I’m getting it,” Coleman said. “I’m still learning. I wasn’t with the Giants in the beginning. The coaches and the players are doing a great job helping me adjust and get caught up. I keep on putting in the work. Just grinding and trying to do my best to help this team.”
“We’re just trying to get him going,” Shurmur said.
TRYING TO GET REPS BEFORE FREE AGENCY
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula has been impressed by Coleman both on and off the field.
“I think he’s just come in every day wanting to learn,” he said. “He’s got a smile on his face. He’ll do anything you ask him to do . . . He’s very talented, he’s fast. We saw that in the return game, but he’s got good hands and I think the biggest thing now is just to kind of put him in situations that he’s comfortable with, not give him too much too soon, and then just see how he grows.”
If he can become a piece of the passing game, it would give the Giants another threat.
“I’ve seen him play,” Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “It’s just a matter of how many reps he gets, what he does with those reps. But I think he’s fully capable of doing it. Obviously, you’ve seen him do it on special teams. He can do some things.”
Coleman isn’t sure where all of this will lead. His contract with the Giants is for one season, so he’ll be a free agent once this year is over. At that time he’ll talk with his agent, talk with the Giants and see where he best fits. By then, he hopes, he’ll be back to being known more for his play than any attitude issues that have latched on to him. If he does, he’ll have the Giants to thank for that.
“It’s good to see him out here overcoming the things and the situations he’s been in,” Beckham said. “It’s been good for him.”
“I’m excited, man,” Coleman said of the chances he’ll get in the next seven games. “I love football. I came here to play football and help this team win. I’m extremely excited and extremely blessed for this opportunity.”
And what will happen beyond that opportunity? If the past few months have taught Coleman anything, it’s not to look that far ahead.
“I’m not even focused on that right now,” he said. “It’s a long way away. My job is to come in here and work as hard as I can. Everything else will play out for itself.”
COREY COLEMAN FILE
No. 19, WR
Height: 5-11 Weight: 185
Drafted: 2016 by Browns (No. 15 overall)
His hectic 2018
+Traded to Bills Aug. 15, released Sept. 1
+Signed by Patriots on Sept. 11, released on Sept. 17.
+Signed to Patriots’ practice squad on Sept. 20, released Sept. 29.
+Signed to Giants practice squad on Oct. 19
+Promoted to Giants’ active roster on Oct. 25