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Next chapter for Giants rookie Xavier McKinney: When to ignore playbook

Xavier McKinney at Giants training camp on Aug.

Xavier McKinney at Giants training camp on Aug. 10, 2020. Credit: Matthew Swensen/Matthew Swensen

One of the biggest obstacles for an NFL rookie is learning the playbook.

Not thinking about the playbook is often a pretty good sign they have.

Xavier McKinney appears to be in that realm already. The second-round pick who figures to play an important role in the starting defense as a safety this season has already been flashing an ability to take the fundamentals he has learned on paper and build off them with his own gut and athleticism. The best example of that progress came earlier this week when McKinney intercepted a screen pass off Daniel Jones in 11-on-11 drills.

“I was on a blitz and I have a couple progressions to read through before I actually finish out my whole blitz,” McKinney said of the play on Thursday. “Once I go through all those progressions, that’s when I can kind of attack. I felt the quarterback looking my way, looking for something behind me. I felt something behind me and it was almost like a reaction play. I used my instincts and tried to make a play for us on the goal line.”

It certainly wasn’t something that was scribbled out on one of the pages in the thick catalog of plays that are distributed to the team. And it wasn’t something that McKinney even thought about beforehand. He simply acted. And it paid off.

McKinney has been doing that a lot through this first week of practice, and it has excited his Giants coaches and teammates about how quickly he will be ready to play at a high level once the regular season begins in three and a half weeks.

“I’m not exactly where I want to be right now, McKinney said.

Thursday’s practice was a glimpse into that. He broke up several passes in one-on-one coverage drills, but came away unsatisfied that he hadn’t finished with the ball in his hands.

“I think I almost had a couple today,” he said after the workout. “I didn’t finish the play like I should have, but that’s why we have film. I’m going to go back and see where I can get better and where I can improve… That’s my biggest thing right now. For me, I know what I can do. I know what I’m capable of.”

And none of that is contained in any playbook.

Recalling big kick is a Gano-no

Graham Gano finds himself in the unenviable position of no longer being able to revel in one of the highlights of his career. That would be the 63-yard field goal he kicked with time expiring almost two years ago to give the Panthers a victory. That it happened against the Giants – the team he just signed with – makes it so taboo.

“I think it’s probably best if I don’t talk about that much here,” he said with a wry smile.

It’s a small price to pay for the chance to kick in the NFL once again. Gano hasn’t done that since December 2018 – shortly after he ripped the hearts out of the Giants – when he injured his left leg. He spent all of 2019 on injured reserve recovering from surgery and said he is “100 percent” healthy now.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I ate breakfast this morning looking at (MetLife Stadium) just imagining kicking in it for the Giants. I can’t wait. It’s going to be exciting.”

Giant steps

CB Corey Ballentine, who injured his shoulder earlier in the week, did not participate fully in practice on Thursday. Joe Judge said it was to give Ballentine’s legs a bit of a rest and allow others to see increased reps. Those who benefitted from more snaps seemed to be rookie Jarren Williams and Dravon Askew-Henry … WR David Sills ended the live competitive portion of practice with a TD catch off a pass from Colt McCoy in a no-huddle drive … McKinney, who played under Joe Judge-mentor Nick Saban at Alabama, said there is little difference between Giants practices and what he experienced in Tuscaloosa. “When (Judge) discussed some of his rules and how he wanted things to be handled and how we wanted us to be as a team, it was almost like a mirror version of how it was at ‘Bama for me,” McKinney said. “I have already been in this type of system. It wasn’t that hard of a transition.”

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