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Two-way player Whitlock hoping to stick with Giants

New York Giants fullback Nikita Whitlock is taken

New York Giants fullback Nikita Whitlock is taken down by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Dan Skuta during an NFL preseason game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Credit: Steven Ryan

Nikita Whitlock was describing his big play in Thursday night's preseason game against the Patriots from his stool in the locker room and casually mentioned that he was double-teamed. Several people around him chuckled. So did he.

"I don't know," he said with a grin and a shrug.

Whitlock, who made the Giants' 53-man roster announced Saturday, hadn't played a single snap on the defensive line in training camp. Not in practice. Not in the first three preseason games. Not last year, his first in the NFL. Not until this opportunity against the Patriots. So for him to draw two blockers, well, it seemed like a bit of overkill.

Then again, maybe it wasn't.

"If they didn't," he said, still smiling, "I would have gotten the sack, too."

As it turned out, he recovered a fumble forced by a sack by Damontre Moore, securing the ball (and the 12-9 victory) late in the fourth quarter deep in Giants territory.

"I saw it and just went and got it," Whitlock said. "Just playing football. Just fundamentals."

That's Whitlock summed up in two sentences.

He has been a fullback for the Giants since he signed with their practice squad late last year and re-signed in the offseason, but at Wake Forest, he was a nose tackle. All-ACC, in fact, with 82 tackles, 19 for a loss, and nine sacks in his senior season.

At 5-10, though, he just didn't have the vertical size to play the line in the NFL, so he converted to the offensive side of the ball and hit people from that angle. Until Thursday, anyway, when he converted back.

Whitlock played 13 snaps on offense, 12 on defense and 19 on special teams against the Patriots. He made several crushing blocks in the backfield, two tackles on special teams and one on defense to go with the souvenir he recovered with 59 seconds remaining.

"It's not that often that people play both ways, especially in the NFL," Moore said. "Most of the time, you think about the skinny guys, the receivers who play cornerback and things like that. To see a big guy out there, I was really happy for him."

Whitlock isn't as big as he could be. He's listed at 250 pounds, but he said he could bulk up if he became a full-time defensive lineman. There's not much he can do about his height, which could scare teams away. But he certainly has a heart that meets NFL size standards.

He didn't know he would play on the defensive line until the team was boarding the plane for the trip to New England on Wednesday.

"[Defensive line coach Robert Nunn] came to me and said, 'Be ready,' " Whitlock recalled. "I said 'OK.' He said, 'No, really, we're going to put you in at shade [similar to nose tackle by not directly over the center],' I said, 'OK, let's do it.' "

He said he often approaches the defensive line coaches whenever he joins a new team -- he was with the Bengals last summer as an undrafted rookie and spent time on-and-off the Cowboys' practice squad last season before joining the Giants in that capacity -- and reminds them of his past as a lineman.

On Thursday, perhaps he awakened some to his future there.

"Man, defensive line is my passion," he said. "I love it. It's a part of my heart. I've been playing it since I was a little kid, so when they gave me the opportunity, I was excited. I was a little discouraged that I didn't get any preparation. Preparation is a lot in this game, especially in the NFL. Seeing the schemes, I didn't know my opponent, I didn't know my competition. But when they gave me the opportunity, I just went out there and fought as best as I could."

Now, he has a spot on the Giants' roster as a reward.

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