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Player first, coach second for Giants cornerback James Bradberry

Panthers cornerback James Bradberry takes the field against

Panthers cornerback James Bradberry takes the field against the Falcons in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 17, 2019. Credit: AP/Brian Blanco

The Giants signed James Bradberry to play cornerback.

That’s what most of the three-year, $45 million contract he signed is for, to have him line up on opposing receivers and make an immediate impact on a defense that has struggled in recent years. Whenever the Giants get back on the field in 2020, chances are high that it will be Bradberry who is lined up across from the other team’s most dangerous weapon.

But there is more to his job description. Bradberry is also going to be asked to become a leader at a position where the Giants have a lot of young potential, including a first-round pick from a year ago who struggled through his rookie season.

We’ve seen Bradberry cover Julio Jones and Mike Evans and Michael Thomas in the NFC South when he was a member of the Panthers. We’re about to see how he handles DeAndre Baker.

“I feel like I can bring an overall knowledge of the game, I can help the younger guys in the DB room get better,’ Bradberry said on a Friday conference call. “My experience, for the most part, is what I will bring to the game.”

The Giants don’t have a lot of that at cornerback. Besides Baker, the presumptive other starter, they will have Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine and Grant Haley as their only returning players. Haley is the only one who has played more than one season in the NFL.

Joe Judge made it clear when he spoke at the NFL Combine in February that he was not interested in bringing in free-agent players to serve as teachers. “You don’t sign older players thinking, ‘This guy is going to teach the younger player how to be a pro,’” he said.

Bradberry is only 26, still in the prime of his career. He’s been hired to play.

“My motto is just go out there and do it,” Bradberry said. “Ain’t no point in being scared of it or hiding back from it, just embrace the challenge, accept it, and make sure that you put the time in so that when it’s time to play on Sunday you are able to perform at your highest level, put on a good show for the fans, and also get a win.”

If he can teach a little of that along the way, serve as a stabilizing force for Baker and the other youngsters, that’s a side gig.

Bradberry said he’s already stepped into a leadership role in his short career. He pointed to two years ago, when the Panthers drafted cornerback Donte Jackson and Bradberry was entering his third NFL season.

“Of course he was already an elite athlete, I didn’t have to punch him up on that, and his technique was superb,” Bradberry said of Jackson. “So for me, I was just trying to help him learn how to break down film and watch film and make sure I was staying on top of him about watching film because that’s how you anticipate routes within zone coverage.”

Jackson has become a high-quality starter for the Panthers.

“That was all attributed to his talents,” Bradberry said. “I helped out a little bit here and there.”

Bradberry pointed to another protégé, too. Himself.

“[Dave] Gettleman saw me up close and in person my first year, and then he saw me from afar,” Bradberry said of the Giants general manager who drafted him when he served in that role for the Panthers. “I think he saw me improve each and every year. In order to improve you have to be able to take knowledge and apply it on the field. That’s what I want to do for the younger guys. I want to give them knowledge and then hopefully they can apply it on the field.”


The biggest challenge in that mentorship actually may be getting in the same room with his new teammates. Because of the spread of coronavirus, Bradberry has not yet been able to visit the team facility in New Jersey. He is training by himself as best he can in Charlotte. He also has not yet reached out to Baker or any of the Giants' other young cornerbacks.  He said he would rather have the introductions done in person.

“That goes a lot smoother than a text message or a DM,” he said.

That was supposed to happen on April 6 at the start of the Giants’ offseason training program. Now? Who knows?

Bradberry did study up on Baker last year, though, when he came into the NFL from Georgia. The Giants traded up to select him at the bottom of the first round.

“I saw a really good athlete and I’m looking forward to working with him,” Bradberry said. “I’m looking forward to working with him and the rest of the guys, honestly. I don’t want to single one person out.”

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