Young, inexperienced players normally have to earn the trust of the coaching staff before they see an increased role on the field and in game plans.
For Ryan Lewis, it seems as if his leap toward solidifying a spot as the Giants’ second starting cornerback opposite James Bradberry began with an opposite flow of faith. It wasn’t that the coaches trusted him (although they did). It was that he trusted them.
The third-year player was on the field for about three-quarters of the Giants’ defensive snaps last Sunday against the Rams.
"I’m pleased with Ryan with how he played," Joe Judge said on Monday. "He showed a lot of positive things in terms of how he played on outside routes. He did some good things on special teams for us as well. We have to keep putting him in positions where he can really use his speed and some of his instincts to make plays for us."
A lot of that has to do with Lewis’ confidence in a system and a hierarchy with which he has become very familiar during his brief career. He is with his eighth team in four seasons, but two of those previous stops stand out. He spent time on the Patriots’ practice squad in 2017 during a Super Bowl run with a team whose coaching staff included Judge, but perhaps more important he played for the Dolphins last season when current Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was calling the plays there.
It was where he really bought into the believing.
In what? In what he was told to do, of course.
Graham, asked last week what he needs to see from the group of nascent cornerbacks in order to have one stand out and secure the job, spoke about that element.
"When you’re dealing with young players, [you tell them], ‘Hey, let’s play for this. In this situation, let’s play for this,’ " Graham said. "When they get out there on the field and all of a sudden it’s something else and they’re not sure, or they think it’s something else, I’m like, ‘If I tell you to play for something, if it’s something else, then it’s on me.’ When you’re a young player and you don’t have as many years of experience or plays in this league, I’m asking them to trust me."
Lewis, likely from his time in a similar system in New England and with Graham personally in Miami, does.
"It’s a process to learn that trust," Graham said. "I’m not saying the guys are out there like, ‘I don’t trust Pat.’ Just as a young player it’s natural that you’re thinking about all the variables. I’m saying, ‘Listen, I’m anticipating this variable right here, you play for that. If something else happens, it’s on me.’ Once they figure that out, then they start looking for it, then they start trusting themselves to identify that stuff. It works out pretty well."
That’s why the Giants were so keen on bringing Lewis to the team this offseason. They missed out on him when he was waived by Miami and claimed by Washington around the start of training camp this summer. But when Washington waived him at its roster cutdown, the Giants swooped in and added him to their practice squad. Shortly thereafter, he was on the active roster. Then on Sunday, it looked as if he had become the starter the Giants have been in search of since DeAndre Baker’s arrest in the spring.
That last part is not necessarily the case. While defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said last week that the ideal situation would be to have one player in that spot, Judge rankled at the very idea of inking anyone into the depth chart.
"I can’t emphasize enough over and over, in terms of the starters, a lot of things just branch into what package we’re playing with certain guys," Judge said. "Based on what the offense puts out there, we may play a specific package which may highlight a different guy . . . Whether it’s Ike [Yiadom] out there or Ryan, or whether it’s going to be [Madre] Harper going forward, there are different things we’re going to look to do. Look, there are other situations where Ike is going to have a predominant role based on how we’re trying to match certain things up and really get him worked in."
When the matchups call for it, though, the Giants now know they can trust Lewis to play . . . if for no other reason than that he appears to trust them.