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Johnathan Hankins quietly becomes a key piece to Giants' defense

Johnathan Hankins, left, celebrates his fourth-quarter sack against

Johnathan Hankins, left, celebrates his fourth-quarter sack against the Atlanta Falcons with teammate Antrel Rolle at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

A quick little anecdote:

Johnathan Hankins came out to speak to the media Thursday and we asked him a bunch of questions about being a key piece to the Giants defense, about trying to improve the run stopping, about the possibility of his getting more chances to sack quarterbacks, and the frustrations of playing a largely anonymous position.

When he was done a photographer who has been here all camp and who has a pretty good grasp on the team's roster came up to me and asked: "Now, who was that?"

It's the world Hankins lives in. So critical. And yet so easy to overlook.

He was probably one of the team's top defensive players [albeit on a bad defense] last year and many of the websites that use numbers and analytics to rank players routinely name him as one of the big up-and-comers in the NFL.

"I won't say it bothers me as long as I'm out there stopping the run and doing what I have to do," Hankins said of being overlooked by the general population of fans.

One of the few ways for a 4-3 defensive tackle like Hankins to get on highlights and get his name noticed is to accumulate sacks. He flashed a bit of that last season, posting seven of them. Not only does he think defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's new schemes will help him to keep taking down quarterbacks this year, he believes that by showing he can hassle passers he'll be on the field more often on passing downs.

The Giants have always liked to slide defensive ends to the inside in those passing situations to get more pass rushers on the field. It's the idea of the NASCAR package that Perry Fewell used. Which means Hankins isn't only competing with defensive tackles for playing time, he's got to out-end the ends.

"I think they'd have four ends out there if they could," Hankins said. "The year I had last year, getting pushes and getting sacks, I think it's opened the eyes of the coaches that they can leave me out there on third downs just to give the ends a break. Sometimes they get caught in there on the running downs and they're not too happy with that. But that's what happens when you want to rush the passer inside."

Having Hankins be able to do that should help the entire defense.

And it may make him a more recognizable presence both on and off the field.

New York Sports