Ben McAdoo said that when he looks at his roster, he “lumps together” the fullback and tight end positions. That must have sent shivers through Nikita Whitlock.
While the Giants have two fullbacks in training camp, they are unlikely to head into the regular season with more than one. They signed free-agent veteran Will Johnson this offseason, a do-it-all kind of fullback who can line up at tight end or H-back, leaving Whitlock as the more traditional fullback. The kind of straight-ahead bruiser who can open holes and stop blitzers cold.
Lumping his position in with the tight ends makes Whitlock’s position battle with Johnson an unfair fight.
And yet Whitlock is not worried about it. Sure, he knows he has to understand the entire offense, and if need be he would have to step in to a tight end type of role. But, he said, sometimes it’s more important to be the right tool for the job rather than a Swiss Army knife.
“We don’t do a lot of the same things,” Whitlock said of fullbacks and tight ends. “When it comes down to it, there are some things you want a fullback for and some things you want a tight end for.”
It’s a bit ironic that Whitlock won the job as fullback last year in a battle with Henry Hynoski because of his versatility. A unique versatility. Whitlock was an All-ACC defensive tackle at Wake Forest and throughout the season took a handful of snaps at the position for the Giants.
This year, Whitlock still has that capability. He even has the defensive playbook installed on his team-issued iPad, he said, something he never had last season. But, when it comes to offense alone he is the one who seems to come up short in the old the-more-you-can-do comparison with Johnson.
“He is more of a traditional fullback,” McAdoo said of Whitlock before adding that he can play on defense. “He also has versatility on special teams, he’s a good [special] teams player.”
That, it turns out, is where Whitlock hopes to separate himself in the preseason game on Friday against the Dolphins. He continues to play on the punt coverage team as the wing on the line of scrimmage, just as he did last year (his first playing special teams). He said he likes being on an island blocking an outside rusher like an offensive tackle. But he’s also learning a new role on kickoff return. Instead of being on the front line with that unit, he’s now on the back line, part of what used to be called the wedge.
Whitlock likes that. He feels like he can get better hits that way.
“That’s obviously what I like to do so I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “It’s a different game.”
He may not have to wait long on Friday. If the Giants get the ball first against the Dolphins it will be the first play of the game, and the first hit of the season. Whitlock already started to envision it.
“It’d be nice to get a good kill shot, a good de-cleater to start the season off,” he said.
Versatility is nice, but sometimes you just need that physical pounder. When the Giants start to sort through their toolbox for the 2016 regular season, picking out their 53 tools, Whitlock hopes that he’s the hammer they choose.