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Some Giants veterans know they won't be around when winning finally happens

Antonio Hamilton and Alec Ogletree of the Giants

Antonio Hamilton and Alec Ogletree of the Giants celebrate a touchdown in the second quarter of their game against Arizona Cardinals at MetLife Stadium on October 20, 2019. Credit: Getty Images/Emilee Chinn

The plan is for the losing to lead to something.

That’s why the Giants have so many young players on the field this season. It’s why they will have even more in Sunday’s game against the Packers and possibly more still the rest of the month. So they can learn, gather experience and eventually win.

How long will that take? It’s hard to say. But it’s becoming clear to many of the veterans on the team that the most likely scenario is that they will be gone before it happens.

Welcome to the reality of the rebuild.

For every rookie bumbling through the season, every first-time starter trying to make an impression, there is a veteran with a clock ticking on his career wondering if he can hang around long enough to experience the potential payoff from this miserable season.

“I wasn’t always one of the older guys,” linebacker Alec Ogletree said before realizing the unintentional comedy of his statement. “But I don’t worry about it because you never know when you will be or you won’t be here. I was a part of the Rams when we were bad, had one good year with them, and then I was gone. I didn’t think I was going to leave there, but things happen.”

Ogletree, at least, continues to play. Safety Michael Thomas started giving up some of his reps to rookie Julian Love last week. Thomas would have been the logical player to step in and replace an injured Jabrill Peppers just a few weeks ago. Now it’s likely to be Love’s opportunity.

“For me, it’s great seeing young dudes, even now, even though they’re not winning, you know you played a major part in teaching them how to watch film or how to dissect routes or play certain coverages, the finer details of it,” Thomas said. “You see them go in there and have success, you’re like, ‘Dang, that’s good! They learned from me and I helped them out.’ ”

Thomas and Ogletree said they both understand what is happening with the Giants.

“You hope you leave a good impression on guys,” Ogletree said. “Make sure they understand what it takes to stay in this league and play in this league at a high level. You try to help the young guys grow and just get better. If they’re able to do that, if they play well whether I’m here or not here or with somebody else, I’ll definitely feel proud to be able to say I had a chance to play with them and I saw them grow and get better.”

Added Thomas: “That’s why they made you a captain. That’s why they brought you here and pay you, to be a leader of this team.”

Some embrace that role even more. Wide receiver Russell Shepard is on season-ending injured reserve and a one-year contract with the Giants, but he is lobbying to come back not so he can play (though of course he would welcome that too) but because he wants to continue to provide guidance for the younger players.

“Obviously, they’re making moves in this organization right now to see the youth,” Shepard said. “Let’s expose them, let’s put them out there and see what they can do … I look at it as an opportunity for me to assert myself as a veteran player and presence on this team.”

Shepard is winding up his seventh NFL season. He said he’d like to get to 10, and do it with this organization.

“I’m not looking to play here another 10 years, that’s not going to happen,” he said. “That’s DJ’s job. That’s Saquon’s job. I’m just here to help create a culture, play good football, then ride off on the horse into the sunset, as they say.”

Not everyone will get such a glorious and well-designed exit. The Giants will have to make roster decisions this offseason, and if they go anything like the ones they have made during the regular season, youth will trump experience. Players such as Janoris Jenkins and Nate Solder could be cut, not just for their hefty salary-cap numbers but to make room for the next generation. And we haven’t even mentioned 38-year-old backup quarterback Eli Manning, whose future with the team beyond this season was effectively sealed in Week 3 when Daniel Jones took over as starter.

Those veteran players know they may not be around to see next season, let alone the ultimate results of this experiment that is the 2019 season. They do, however, believe it will be a successful one.

“Yeah, you would love to have wins with these growing pains, and the losses are tough on everybody, but for us, it’s knowing that these guys are going to win eventually,” Thomas said. “They’re young, they’re getting thrown into the fire, but they’re going to be winners.”

Blue shorts: Longsnapper Zak DeOssie (wrist/knee) was placed on injured reserve on Saturday. The Giants signed Colin Holba off their practice squad and he will handle the long-snapping on Sunday.

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