Adrian Tracy went tearing through the offensive line and straight into the Jaguars' backfield last Friday ready to explode on any blocker or ballcarrier who came his way. But when he got to where he thought he would meet that collision, there was no one around him. Running back Montell Owens had already taken the handoff and run through the hole where Tracy had been, then side-stepped Giants linebacker Greg Jones and ran over safety Stevie Brown on his way to the end zone.
It was the first time Tracy, a third-year player returning to his natural defensive end position for the first time in the NFL this summer, had been sucked in like that, had his quickness turned against him. But Giants fans have seen that kind of play with some regularity over the last few years. Usually, though, it's Osi Umenyiora who over-rushes or over-pursues.
"He said that that happens to the best of them, so that's a positive," Tracy said of Umenyiora's advice to him on the play in which the Jaguars took advantage of Tracy's skills. "Quickness can be good at times, but other times if you're not on your game and knowing what they're trying to do, they can use it against you."
That wasn't the first play this summer in which Tracy has reminded people of Umenyiora. In fact, he's earned a nickname among the defensive linemen - "Yosi," which is short for Young Osi. Tracy is listed at 6-2, 245 pounds (although he said he's playing at 252 this summer). Umenyiora is 6-3, 255 pounds.
"He's doing a phenomenal job and I love the way he plays and prepares," Umenyiora said. "He's always willing to learn, he's always willing to train afterward, working on different things and you hear him asking questions. He's willing to get better. It's just very good to see a young guy like that performing the way he's performing."
Both have the speed and quickness to get around lumbering offensive linemen with ease, something that Tracy learned from that touchdown run can be a detriment.
"The biggest thing I pick up from Osi is get-off," Tracy said. "He's got a knack and a natural ability to key [on] the snap and get off on the ball. So I try to pick up anything and everything I can with that from him."
Tracy has been an afterthought for most of his career with the Giants. A sixth-round pick from William & Mary in 2010, he spent his rookie season on IR with a dislocated elbow and was on the practice squad all of last season. Oh, and he was playing linebacker for the team in those seasons too, even though he had been a 4-3 defensive end in college. The Giants thought his athleticism would translate to an outside, stand-up position. Tracy was hungry for any NFL opportunity so he did what he could, but when he was moved back to defensive end this spring, he felt like he'd returned home.
He showed that confidence against the Jaguars. The touchdown run besides, Tracy had some strong plays. He registered a strip-sack and nearly had a second when his pressure helped Jayron Hosley get to the quarterback. For the first time in his NFL career, he said, he felt comfortable.
"And it felt good," he said. "I knew my assignment, I knew my alignment and what I was supposed to do and what was required of me. Sometimes it may not have happened as I had hoped or the coaches had hoped. But that was the biggest thing, knowing what you're doing, getting in line and just going to play ball."
It may have seemed an odd move, shifting Tracy from linebacker to one of the deepest positions on the roster. But he is emerging as a contributor at defensive end even with Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora maintaining their grip on the position. With Justin Trattou sidelined for the next few weeks with a heel and ankle injury, Tracy seems to be in line to fill the role played last year by Dave Tollefson.