Darius Slayton spoke briefly about Xavier McKinney earlier this week. The Giants wide receiver had faced the rookie safety when they were competitors in college and again this summer as teammates during Giants training camp. Slayton called him "a rangy guy" who can run and hit and added that he's a "bright" player.
Then he came to the most important part.
"I think he is supposed to come back soon, actually," Slayton said.
Yes. Yes he is.
The player the Giants picked in the second round of April’s draft and penciled in as their starting safety for the season has been sidelined since late August with a fracture in his foot that required surgery. Now, after months on injured reserve spent rehabbing behind the scenes and occasionally popping up to do some work with trainers on the sidelines during Giants practices, McKinney seems poised to make his regular-season debut.
The Giants may even designate him for return from IR when they come back from their bye next week. Joe Judge said he was hoping to have more clarity on that decision based on how McKinney looked in practices this week, but those on-field exercises were canceled because of the positive COVID-19 test for kicker Graham Gano.
Monday, then, will be an "important day" for McKinney to show the coaches and medical staff that he is as close to a return as everyone in the organization hopes he is.
There are several players on IR in a similar situation. Linebacker Oshane Ximines already has been designated to return from a shoulder injury and has until later this week to be added to the active 53-man roster. Cornerback Ryan Lewis, who had risen to starter before he hurt his hamstring, and another safety who had been starting, Adrian Colbert (shoulder), also are close to being designated to return.
"We’re optimistic we should see the majority of those guys if not all of them at some point down this stretch," Judge said on Wednesday. "They’ve all made progress, they’re all working very hard with our trainers. I know they are a lot further ahead than they were when they initially went on IR. We just have to see how close they are to game action for us."
The headliner of that group, though, is McKinney. Partly because of where he was drafted (high), partly because of how he looked in training camp (good), and partly because unlike the others, everyone is curious to see how he performs in NFL games without much experience (none).
McKinney has been taking part in meetings and even working on projects for the defense such as dissecting opponents’ trends and tendencies.
"X is doing a great job, he’s working hard," said safety Logan Ryan, who was signed to fill in for McKinney. "[He’s] here every day, attending every meeting, listening, learning . . . He’s doing everything you can ask him to do at this point."
Ryan even noted that McKinney was standing on the sideline during a recent practice in the pouring rain.
"So he’s definitely committed," he said.
How McKinney will fit into the secondary now is a question. The Giants have had their current safety tandem of Ryan and Jabrill Peppers playing at a high level of late, and they’re unlikely to disrupt that.
"That remains to be seen," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said last week. "We’ll have to see once we get him back, how he’s feeling and how he’s playing. We’ll hopefully get him back real soon and get him introduced into the package in some way, some fashion. I’m not sure yet what that looks like. Jabrill has been playing well, Logan is playing well, [Julian] Love has done a good job for us as well. We have to find a way to get him mixed in with that group."
First, though, McKinney has to prove he is healthy enough for that. That could happen on Monday. Or Wednesday. Or, maybe, the week after that. Once the Giants designate him for return, they have 21 days to activate him or lose him for the rest of the season.
That’s something no one wants. Especially after having lost him for so long already.