Giants building foundation in OTAs

David Wilson, left, is learning how to play running back in the NFL.

The Giants held one of their allotted “voluntary” minicamps Wednesday as a way to integrate the rookies with the veterans, and naturally there were a lot of teachable moments for the newbies.

“All of these workouts are important for everybody, just to be able to get back into a football mentality,” head coach Tom Coughlin said, adding the team will need to accelerate the learning because time will fly by without much notice. “The development of the young guys is real important, just to be able to learn a new language is critical. All of this is very important to the development of our team [especially] when some teams have 11 weeks of these [OTAs] and we have nine, so there’s parity in that regard.”

Count first-round pick David Wilson as one guy who’ll need to be up to speed in a hurry, especially since he’ll figure to be counted on in a lot of roles. Wilson was seen being corrected on assignments on more than one occasion, making the explosive rookie well aware that he’s no longer the big man on campus. 

Wilson’s veteran mentor, Ahmad Bradshaw, said that’s the way it is with rookies. Bradshaw added that no matter how touted Wilson is for his rushing prowess, the former Virginia Tech star won’t see much action if he can’t also learn to pick up blitzes.

“That’s how it is. If you can’t protect that quarterback, you can’t get out there,” Bradshaw said. “We’ve had a lot of rookies and a lot of young guys come through here. We don’t even let them get behind Eli [Manning] in practice if they can’t block.”

Bradshaw, who is the elder statesman of the backfield following the departure of Brandon Jacobs to San Francisco, said one of his daunting tasks as a rookie was learning everything in the team’s encyclopedic playbook. The demure Bradshaw added he knows how Wilson and the other rookies feel, so he’ll make it a point to step out of his comfort zone at times and help those struggling with the transition.     

“As a Giants running back, it’s one of the toughest things,” Bradshaw said, referring to blitz pickup. “I don’t see a lot of guys coming in and being able to immediately grasp all of the different things. You just have so many pass protections, pass route terms and run terms. You have different terminology from when you’re in college or when you’re with another team. It’s just so much different terminology with us and then we have so many keywords and hidden phrases. … But that’s when the word ‘job’ comes into play.”     

Wideout Hakeem Nicks said he understands the plight of his new teammates because he was one just a few years ago (2009). He said he’s been offering advice to all rookies, particularly to his unit, which has second-round pick Rueben Randle. Nicks said he’s been telling Randle to not over-think things and to just play the way that got him drafted in the first place.   

“All eyes are going to be on you, so you just want to come in and try to do everything right,” Nicks said. “But in all likelihood you probably won’t. That’s just how your expectations have to be. First, you must grasp how we run things here, just making sure to be accountable and able to take on everything that’s going to be thrown at him. … We won’t throw too much at him at first, I’m sure, but just being a rookie, you know you have to come in and play the game the same way you’ve been playing it. Don’t put too much on yourself.”    

The biggest adjustment, said Nicks, is knowing the basic concepts of each play and each route. Because once the basics are down, then you can worry about the different branches of each play and each route.    

“Once you get the playbook down it’s all about concepts,” Nicks said. “Try not to learn just one position. Try to learn the whole offense and it will be better for you.”      

Coughlin said he was particularly pleased with everyone’s “focus, concentration” and the “good learning we did today.” He added he was also impressed with how the holdovers used the session as a way to “build themselves back up into football speed.”  

Big Blue notes
 
» It wouldn’t be a Giants’ offseason if it wasn’t marred by an injury. Cornerback Brian Witherspoon went down in a heap during the early portion of practice and had to be carted off the field with an apparent leg injury. Coughlin said there was no official update as of the end of practice, but added he was “afraid it was the [same] ACL again.” Witherspoon missed last season with a tear to his left ACL during a preseason game against the Bears.
 
» Fellow cornerback Antwaun Molden, a free-agent signing this offseason from New England, was also carted off the field later on. Molden came up lame with a hamstring injury during a skeletal passing drill and will be further evaluated by team doctors. 

» One cornerback who will certainly try to capitalize on potential openings on the roster is Michael Coe. The sixth-year veteran re-signed with the Giants in the offseason, despite the glut of defensive backs on the roster, including the Molden signing and drafting of Jayron Hosley. But Coe said he’s not discouraged by the additions: “You can’t control that [what organizations do]. You just have to focus on yourself and try to put yourself in the best position that you can do. It’s a business and they’re looking out for their interests and I’m looking out for mine, so all you just have to do is concentrate on being the best player you can be.”    

» Linebacker Michael Boley is also concentrating on only what he can control, which is why he’s not too worried about the rumored move from his customary weakside linebacker spot (WILL) to middle linebacker (MIKE), to accommodate newcomer Keith Rivers, who’s played the WILL his entire career. Boley, who worked ahead of Rivers at the WILL Wednesday, said whatever defensive coordinator Perry Fewell decides, he’ll accept: “It’s tentative and everything is always subject to change. We’ll start one way and see how it works and then tweak it if necessary, [but] hasn’t much been said about [the switch]. But if I have to it’ll be a role I’ll have to embrace.  

» Linebacker Clint Sintim will be happy with any role, as long as he’s still a member of the team. The fourth-year vet has been a forgotten man as injuries in recent seasons has curtailed his development. The former Virginia star isn’t all the way back from a serious knee injury suffered last year, but said he is confident he’ll get back to his hard-hitting ways: “I feel good. I’ve been out about 9 1/2 months since my injury and it’s been a long, slow process, but I feel encouraged and staying positive.”

Sintim added he doesn’t mind that he’s the forgotten man in the question as to who plays the MIKE: “If I’m forgotten it’s rightfully so because I’ve been out predominately the last two years, so I don’t expect to be high on everybody’s board and being talked about. It is the way it’s supposed to be. All I need to do is continue to get healthy and find my role to best contribute to this team.” When asked whether Fewell has addressed a role for him, Sintim said no: “I don’t think I’m there yet to discuss my role. Once I get healthy and come out here and practice more and play the way I know I can play, then my role will define itself.”
  
» Mathias Kiwanuka’s role is never defined. He just goes out and plays. Kiwanuka is without question the most versatile defender on the team, able to play anywhere on the front seven. Currently a strongside linebacker (SAM), he said he’s been sitting in on defensive line meetings as well, just in case. With the departures of defensive tackle Rocky Bernard and defensive end Dave Tollefson and the never-ending tribulations of defensive end Osi Umenyiora, Kiwanuka may have to dust off his old “Joker” role: “It’ll be the same thing. Whatever we got to do I’ll be at. In certain circumstances I’ll be a D-end and in others I’ll be a linebacker. It’s working and we’re winning, and that’s what matters.”

Kiwanuka said there are advantages in both lineman and linebacker: “The best part of being a defensive end is the pass rush and the best part of being a linebacker is I get to hit. I’m OK with it. There’s never a discussion as to my role or where I’m gonna be. It’s defined but undefined.”

The veteran added the workload is twice as much, but he can handle it — especially when one of the positions isn’t as mentally taxing. Kiwanuka took a playful jab at his defensive-line brethren: “I always prepare a little extra so I can switch back and forth. I’ll sometimes sit in on both meetings. When I’m in the linebacker room, it’s a little more difficult to understand, but then I’ll also sit in on the D-Line stuff, but that’s the easy part. Let’s be honest, it’s not rocket science down there. … The transition between the two is all about getting the techniques down and getting the reps in. The brainwork is twice as much, so I make sure I put in the time.”

Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for all your offseason news and notes from Big Blue.



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