The Giants haven’t changed much in terms of their players when it comes to the starters in their secondary. If things go according to plan this summer they’ll likely head into the season with two returning starters at cornerback, one returning starter at safety with the possibility of a second, and some familiar faces competing for backup roles and sub-package jobs.
The overhaul of the group, therefore, has had little to do with personnel. In fact, it’s more personal.
After a season in which the biggest issues facing the secondary were off-the-field dysfunctions, the players have spent the last few months trying to foster a new camaraderie among themselves.
“We’re bonding more off the field,” Janoris Jenkins said. “We’re hanging out more and everyone is getting to learn everyone. We just compete and are picking each other up whether it is a good day or a bad day. I feel like it’s a family atmosphere.”
Jenkins was not an innocent bystander in the fracturing of the secondary last season. He was one of three cornerbacks who were suspended at various times. But at the start of the offseason program in April, he was also the one who said he would make sure it did not happen again.
The Giants have given him some help with the addition of veterans such as Mike Thomas and William Gay, stout locker room presences who have already taken on important jobs in the creation of some kumbaya. The returning players call Thomas “Uncle Mike” because of his maturity and Gay, entering his 12th NFL season, spent time over the past few months organizing outings for the players that were well-attended.
“The NBA Finals were on and we’d go catch the game like anybody else,” Gay said. “We’d go watch any sporting event. Or, I’m new to the city so they showed me a couple of spots to go eat and we’d just go there. We don’t need an occasion. And that’s where we want to get to: That you want to do it just because you miss your brothers.”
To that point, the Giants are trying something else a little different during the next few weeks before the start of training camp. Just as quarterbacks and receivers sometimes spend that down time working out together, the Giants corners and safeties plan to have their own unofficial camp at some point over the next few weeks. They’ll get work on conditioning, skills and their relationships.
“We don’t know if it has anything to do with winning, but it can’t hurt,” Gay said. “So that’s what I like to go with. It won’t guarantee wins, but it will guarantee that you’ll become closer as a unit.”
So far, the approach seems to be working. Landon Collins and Eli Apple, who ended last season with the former calling the latter a “cancer” and the latter contradicting statements from the former, say they have moved on from their rift. They even traveled together to Puerto Rico on a humanitarian mission earlier this spring. Jenkins made his vow to keep the group together. All signs of decayed relationships have been eliminated . . . or at least stuffed in a closet where no one can see them.
“A lot of people are bringing that up,” Thomas said of last year’s drama. “Since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen any of that.”
Both Thomas and Gay understand that part of their job is to help keep it that way.
“I’m just trying to bring some leadership and be a good teammate,” Thomas said. “Anything that I have learned from my experience and my wisdom, just try and give it to them. That’s it.”
“Along with playing in this league for so long, that comes with the territory,” Gay said. “That’s what any coach wants you to bring to the team is a veteran presence. It’s just being a pro and doing things the right way. That’s all I know. But at the end of the day, you’d better be able to play some football.”
The Giants have used veteran players in the secondary in that role in the past. R.W. McQuarters and Sam Madison were not every-down defenders on the 2007 team, but their presence was a key part of the championship drive. Thomas and Gay could fill similar roles this season.
“There are a lot of comedians, so that’s good when you can go from the stress level we have on the field in the secondary,” Gay said of the players on the roster. “When everybody in America knows if we mess up, to leave that and go outside of this facility and just laugh and make jokes, that’s the group that we are right now.”
“It is just building that tight chemistry,” Jenkins said. “It makes everyone want to play even harder. We are already playing hard, but just knowing that we bond on and off the field makes you want to play even harder.”