Jabaal Sheard started the season on his couch in South Florida watching football for the first time in decades.
"Just being a dad," the outside linebacker said of his whereabouts in early September. "Living the normal life, I guess."
Niko Lalos, who’d just finished his first NFL training camp, was on the Giants’ practice squad at the time, trying to find a position group that was thin enough to afford him some reps, bouncing between the outside linebackers and defensive linemen and even the tight ends and fullbacks.
"He’s kind of a revolving door guy," outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema said of the Dartmouth product.
Last week the pair made two of the biggest plays in the Giants' 19-17 win over the Bengals. Lalos made a diving interception of a batted pass and Sheard sealed the victory with a strip-sack in the final minute.
And as the Giants prepare to face the Seahawks in one of their biggest games of the season on Sunday, those two probably are going to be asked to do even more.
The Giants put Kyler Fackrell on injured reserve this week, meaning the team will play at least the next three weeks without any of the top four edge rushers they had when the season started. Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines have had season-ending surgery and Markus Golden was traded. All that’s left are two late-round draft picks in Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown, Trent Harris, Sheard and Lalos.
Which may not be as bad as it sounds.
"For me, in our room, we’ve had a lot of transition, different guys popping up, and people look at it as a negative but I look at it as a positive because as a coach you are always on your edge," Bielema said. "You have a chance to bring new people in and evolve and rotate, find out their strengths, minimize their weaknesses and hopefully have good results."
Lalos was a game-day promotion from the practice squad last week — and if he plays against the Seahawks, he will be again — but not until he passed the test that Bielema gives to all of his players on formations and responsibilities.
"He would send back that test as good as everybody in my room," Bielema said. "He dotted every I and crossed every T."
Lalos said it was similar to the tests he took at Dartmouth.
"I kind of went in with the same mindset, studied the same way, prepared the same way," he said. "It was a good test. I felt like going into the game I was ready and confident."
It wasn’t until Fackrell suffered a calf injury in the second half, though, that Lalos actually got onto the field with the defense.
"The one thing I can promise you is that if you tell him he’s going to be in on a package, he’s going to be out there," Bielema said. "He’ll be out there quicker than you get the call in."
Two snaps later, he was diving for the interception.
"It’s actually here in my room right now," Lalos said later in the week of the football from his first big NFL play. "I wasn’t going to let go of that thing for dear life."
Because he wanted a souvenir?
"More so because I’ve seen Coach Judge talk about ball security so much that I didn’t want to be ‘that guy,’ " he said. "If someone had poked the ball out after I had made the catch, I don’t think I would have been able to sleep at night."
Unlike Lalos, Sheard has plenty of NFL highlights and memories. He’s in his 10th NFL season and had 51.5 career sacks before the one that ended Sunday’s game.
After starting the season as an unsigned free agent, he eventually landed on the Jaguars' practice squad. The Giants plucked him from there in October and he’s seen increased playing time while settling in with his fifth NFL team.
Still, he said, that walk-off sack was exciting for him.
"Those are very rare," he said. "Special moments when your number is called and you actually get the opportunity to make the play. It was a great feeling. It’s one that always brings you back. I think there is no better feeling as a defensive guy."
So now the Giants will face one of the NFL’s top offenses with an edge rushing group that sounds as if it would make for a good sitcom name: Jabaal & the Kids.
"Don’t make me feel so old," the 31-year-old Sheard said, laughing. "It’s a great group of guys. I don’t feel old at all. I just feel like I’m spreading knowledge."
"A lot of us young guys are thankful for the opportunity that we get to step up and fill the vacancy," Lalos said. "We’re definitely going to go out there and give it our best and show what we can do."