There’s a pretty significant difference coming into your first NFL season when you’ve been drafted second overall compared with, say, 69th.
If you’re the latter, your name isn’t plastered over back pages or debated hour after hour on sports radio. No one acts as if you hold the fate of the franchise in your hands. And if you’re B.J. Hill, whom the Giants picked 69th, you don’t go to the supermarket and see kids wearing your name on their backs.
But when the clock strikes 1 p.m. Sunday, absolutely none of that will matter. Because whether you’re Saquon Barkley or B.J. Hill or Lorenzo Carter or Will Hernandez — the four rookies all could start against the Jaguars — this holds true: It is Day 1, and Day 1 is huge for everybody.
“I think the big thing is to just try to keep them calm,” coach Pat Shurmur said Friday. “Their emotions — because it’ll be the first time in the shiny pants, the game uniforms, on a Sunday, for real — I’m sure their emotions will run. But most of these guys have played in front of large crowds before, in big games, so they’ll just lean on those experiences and we’ll help them do it.”
There are wrinkles to that, though. As the second overall pick, Barkley is sure to have heaps of pressure. But the Jaguars, as well as a few other circumstances, will create challenges for the other three, too.
Outside linebacker Carter will be at least partially responsible for filling the void left by Olivier Vernon (high ankle sprain), who officially was ruled out for Sunday. Defensive lineman Hill has to help contain the best rushing offense in the league last year. Left guard Hernandez will have to go up against a top-rated interior defensive line — guys such as Calais Campbell — and a team that last year deployed a four-man rush more than any other in the NFL.
“We’ve got our hands full on Sunday,” offensive line coach Hal Hunter said. “They’ve got four defensive linemen that can start for anybody in the NFL — they’re really, really good. And they put pressure on the quarterback with four guys, and that means [they’re] dropping seven guys in coverage, so it’s like throwing it into a parking lot after a game. There are people everywhere . . . You’ve got to make them add a fifth guy, add a sixth guy — go from zone coverage to man coverage. If they rush four guys, you’ve got to protect longer to give guys a chance to get open on the routes.”
It’s a tall task for everyone involved. Sure, there are nerves, Hill said, and a whole lot of excitement, added Carter. But that’s what being a rookie playing in your first game is all about.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Hill said. “I’m just excited to get out there and just compete. They have a good run offense and we’ve got a pretty darn good run defense. I’m excited to battle.”
Notes & quotes: Though Vernon is out, Shurmur said he is making “good progress” but would not say when he’s expected to return. Linebacker Tae Davis (hamstring) also was ruled out for Sunday.
With Tom Rock