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Last year's rookies set big goals for Year 2

Posted May 18, 2017

Second-year players chat with Giants.com about their goals for 2017: 

For NFL players, oftentimes the biggest jump in their production during their careers happens between their first and second years. It should be no surprise why, given how much of an adjustment it is for players in their rookie season. They have to learn a new offensive or defensive system, get to know new teammates, and figure out how to function as an adult and a professional in a brand new environment. It’s daunting.

In 2016, Landon Collins showed just how much different a player’s second year can look from his first. After struggling at times in coverage as a rookie, Collins grabbed five interceptions last season, to go along with four sacks and 100 tackles, on his way to a first-team All-Pro selection and Pro Bowl honors. In one year, he became one of the best safeties in football.

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Last year’s rookie class now tries to make a similar jump in the second year. It starts with simple things, like comfort level. With all three coordinators returning, there will be no changing of systems on any side of the ball, which means the 2016 rookie class doesn’t have to go through a learning process all over again.

“It’s slowed down a lot for me,” 2016 second-round pick Sterling Shepard said. “I know the signals now. I don’t have to think about what I have to do. I can put my own twist on things now. I’m a lot more comfortable.”

“I’m feeling pretty comfortable now,” second-year tight end Jerell Adams said. “I just want to show people what I got.”

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo likes to use a deep defensive line rotation that 2016 undrafted free agent Romeo Okwara wants to be a bigger part of in his second year.

“I’m comfortable everywhere,” he said. “I want to be a versatile player and be able to play wherever they need me.”

The players also evaluated their performances as rookies and pinpointed specific areas where they want to improve. Shepard had an excellent rookie year, grabbing 65 passes for 683 yards and eight touchdowns. But he had a critical evaluation of 2016.

“I mainly just look at the stuff I need to improve on,” Shepard said. “After the catch I need to switch the ball and put it in a different arm. Sometimes I’m on the left side and I have it in my right hand. I need to switch that. Then just YAC [yards after catch] yardage.”

Adams, who played 204 snaps on offense last year, knows tight ends not only have to flourish in the pass game, but the run game as well. He used offseason workouts to do just that.

“Getting bigger and putting on more weight,” he said of his goals. “I want to work on my blocking and my route running, getting down the seam and making tough catches. I felt like I could have blocked a lot better. My technique is the most important thing.”

Okwara stepped into a starting role when Jason Pierre-Paul missed the final month of the season with a core muscle injury.

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“I need to capitalize,” Okwara said of how he wants to improve. “I felt like I left a lot of plays out there on the field. That’s one thing I’m trying to work on this offseason, finishing my rushes and being more stout in the run.”

Behind the four starters, Okwara played the most snaps of any defensive lineman last year.

Last year’s four-round pick, B.J. Goodson, played primarily on special teams. He was on the field for just 13 defensive snaps, but was an integral part of special teams. With last year’s starting middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard still a free agent, Goodson may have a chance to earn that spot on early downs.

“Definitely ready and preparing for it,” Goodson said. “I’ve been preparing for it since I got here, so I’m definitely ready.”

The middle linebacker must be a leader of the defense, something he is also working on.

“Just being more vocal,” Goodson said. “It’s something I’ve been pressing towards. Be more of a leader.”

Even for someone like safety Darian Thompson, who only played 88 defensive snaps before a foot injury knocked him out for the season, there was a lot to learn in the classroom.

“I learned about how each individual player plays,” Thompson said. “Everybody plays different. For me playing safety, that’s kind of important. Just learning the guys on and off the field and how they play the game was big for me.”

Thompson can’t wait to try to earn the right to line up next to Landon Collins this year.

“I think we’re the perfect duo,” He said. “He’s an in-the-box guy, and I play centerfield.”

The Giants hope to make a lot of noise in the NFC this season and play well into January. Improvement from their second-year players will be a huge part of any success they have. The NFL is a young man’s game, and getting elite play from players on their rookie contracts is a big part of any team succeeding. There are high hopes the Giants’ second-year players can do just that.