When the season began, Avery Moss wasn’t sure he was in the right place.
The NFL? That’s for the best of the best.
“I had this idea that everybody who played on that field was a superstar,” the rookie defensive end told Newsday on Monday. “O-linemen who can’t be touched and you can’t move them for anything. The d-linemen are the most vicious people in the game.”
And there he was, a kid from Youngstown State, trying to compete against them.
“I had some doubts,” Moss said of his ability to play at this level, even up to and including his making of the 53-man roster out of the preseason. “It was different. I didn’t know where I fit on the depth chart. I didn’t know what my role would be. It was all different for me. I knew I could adjust to it, but I didn’t know if it was exactly for me.”
The last three games before the bye changed his mind. And perhaps the Giants’, too.
After not seeing the field on defense for the first four games, three of which he was inactive for, he’s played 105 defensive snaps. He batted down a pass against the Chargers and forced a fumble against the Seahawks. He also had a quarterback hit on Russell Wilson.
Ben McAdoo said one of the focuses of the coaching staff during the bye week was assessing the deployment of the team’s personnel.
“We wanted to make sure we were using our players the right way,” McAdoo said. “Is there an opportunity moving forward for us to inject maybe some younger players … into different roles?”
Moss, a fifth-round pick, would seem to be an ideal candidate. He’s still raw, still has holes in his game. But he’s exciting and makes things happen. That’s needed on the Giants’ defense.
When Moss returned from the bye, spending the weekend in Youngstown where he visited with his girlfriend and saw his alma mater’s game, he came back with a new sense of confidence.
“I definitely feel like I belong here,” he said. “I have a lot to learn, but I definitely feel like I belong.”
Finding plays for him on the field shouldn’t be too hard. Starting defensive end Olivier Vernon still is recovering from an ankle injury, and even if he does play this Sunday for the first time since Oct. 1 he likely will be limited. The Giants put Romeo Okwara on injured reserve with a knee injury. That leaves only Jason Pierre-Paul and Kerry Wynn, who has been lining up in Vernon’s place as a starter, ahead of Moss in the rotation.
Despite his new sense of belonging, Moss said he’s not sure how he’ll be used for the rest of the season.
“I’m humble,” he said. “I take everything that comes my way… Roles change, so I’m just changing with the roles and trying to hold it down until OV gets back.”
He still feels a little out of place on the field.
“Even if I go in now I’m still going to have that little bit of jitters because it’s still early for me,” he said. “But with more and more repetition it’s going to be like second nature.”
Moss should get those reps in the next two months, against some pretty strong competition. That would have been intimidating for him just a few short weeks ago. But no longer.
“It’s really just football,” he said of pulling the curtain back on the NFL myth he once believed. “Once you get to see everybody on film you see that most dudes aren’t perfect. A lot of them have imperfections in their games… Last year I looked at them on TV and you’re like: ‘These guys are big, this and that.’ Once you see everything now that I’m here, it’s like: ‘They’re not all that. They’re beatable.’ And they put on their jersey just like I do.”
That, he said, is the key to his rookie transformation. That he puts on his jersey, too. That he’s earned it. That he belongs.
“Now,” he said, “I’m certain it’s for me.”