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2018 Position Preview: Cornerbacks

The New York Giants did not draft a cornerback in April, but they did in July.

Sam Beal, who was taken last week in the supplemental draft, will join a stiff competition at his position when he reports next week for training camp. It was one of the main competitions to watch before the team acquired him, and now it might be at the top.

"Well, it's competitive," coach Pat Shurmur said last month as the Giants wrapped up spring practices. "We were talking about it. … I was sitting with [defensive coordinator] James [Bettcher], just going back over the roster. It's going to be competitive to see who's going to be, in my mind, our third, fourth and fifth corner. We've got some candidates who are doing some really good things. And then they're going to have to have a role. Certainly, when teams are in base and we've got Jackrabbit [Janoris Jenkins] and Eli [Apple] out there. But then when teams go to nickel, which is more than half the time, there's going to have to be a guy step up. And we'll just have to find the role, and whoever that guy is, we've got to do the things that fit what he can do best."

From veterans to undrafted rookies, the cornerback room has a little bit of everything heading into camp. They will be led by defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo, a Staten Island native who was the Dolphins' defensive backs coach from 2012-17. Deshea Townsend, a 13-year NFL player entering his fifth season as a pro coach, is the assistant defensive backs coach. 

Here are the players they are working with:

JANORIS JENKINS: A 2016 Pro Bowler, Jenkins returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns last season, becoming the first Giants player to score twice on interception returns in the same year since safety Percy Ellsworth in 1998. Since he came into the league in 2012, Jenkins is tied with Aqib Talib for the most interception return touchdowns with seven. Jenkins played in nine games in 2017, missing seven, including six with an ankle injury (he was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 29). With the departure of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jenkins is now one of the older players in the room and is relishing playing in the new defense under James Bettcher. 

"I love him," Jenkins said. "He understands the game, is an aggressive play caller and understands the way his guys play."

ELI APPLE: Good or bad, cornerbacks need to have short memories and move on. Eli Apple, like the rest of the Giants organization, is trying to do that. After a productive rookie campaign in which the defense led the way to Big Blue's first postseason appearance since winning Super Bowl XLVI, the former 10th overall draft selection fell into a sophomore slump in 2017. A few months removed from the forgettable year, Apple admitted this spring that "of course" he was embarrassed about the way it unfolded.

With the arrival of a new coaching staff and general manager, Apple, entering his third season and set to turn 23 on the day of the Giants' preseason opener, received a clean slate. A lot of coaches and executives can say that about a player, but Apple definitely feels like he is starting fresh. When he walked out of the meeting with the top brass, Apple made the decision on the spot.

"Right when they told me, I was just like, you know what, just the way stuff ended [last season], I didn't want it to ever get to that," he said. "So every day I've just been thinking about just being better, being more positive."

The early results have been just that. During spring practices, Apple flashed the traits of the strong, physical cornerback the Giants saw when he came out of Ohio State in 2016.

"I think that it speaks to maturity and it speaks to owning successes and failures," Shurmur said. "We have to be willing to, okay, if a mistake happened, in order to move forward from a mistake or something that went wrong, we have to admit that it happened and that we were involved in it. What you do is you find a solution, you make the correction and you move on past. That is really what we do play to play. As professionals in this business, we do this probably game to game and season to season. I think whatever happened a year ago and whatever he is talking about, I am sure that is just a mature guy that is reflecting."

WILLIAM GAY: The longtime Steeler has not missed a game in his first 11 NFL seasons. That's the type of consistency the Giants needed in their secondary and got it when they signed him in April. A fifth-round draft choice out of Louisville in 2007, he played in all 176 regular-season and 15 postseason games through the end of the 2017 season. He spent 10 of those years with Pittsburgh, and the 2012 season with the Arizona Cardinals. Gay's 176 consecutive games played is tied for the eighth-longest streak among active players, and is the longest by a defensive back.

His career totals include 563 tackles (463 solo), 7.0 sacks, 13 interceptions, 87 passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Last season, Gay had 19 tackles (16 solo), one interception, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles. This spring, Gay proved he still has it, using his veteran smarts to cause a few interceptions and grab some of his own.

SAM BEAL: General manager Dave Gettleman believes they got their 2019 third-round pick early with Beal. That's what the team gave up to acquire him in the supplemental draft, making Beal the highest pick since the Browns selected wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second round in 2012. Beal started 23 of 37 games in his career at Western Michigan, recording 96 tackles (68 solo), two interceptions and 21 passes defensed. His first career interception came in the 2017 season opener against fourth-ranked USC. The quarterback was Sam Darnold, who became the third overall pick in the draft, right behind the Giants' Saquon Barkley.

"The biggest thing I think you're going to find with Sam is as far as a cover guy goes," WMU head coach Tim Lester said, "he's about as good as I've ever seen in the business."

DONTE DEAYON: After making his way onto the roster as an undrafted rookie and appearing in four games last season, Deayon had an impressive spring as he looks for a larger role in 2018. What he lacks in size (5-foot-9, 163 pounds) he makes up for in energy. Deayon ended his college career ranked fifth on Boise State's all-time interceptions list and third on the Mountain West Conference's, both of which were topped by Giants safety Darian Thompson.

TEDDY WILLIAMS: A day after signing running back Jonathan Stewart, the Giants signed another ex-Carolina Panther in Teddy Williams as free agency opened. Williams, 6-1 and 210 pounds, did not play in the 2017 season. Playing for Carolina, he injured his shoulder in the preseason finale vs. Pittsburgh and was subsequently waived. Since entering the NFL as a rookie free agent in 2012, Williams has played 36 games for Indianapolis, Arizona, Chicago, Jacksonville and Carolina. His career totals include 12 tackles (10 solo) and one interception. He played in all three of the Panthers' 2015 postseason games, including Super Bowl 50.

CHRIS LEWIS-HARRIS: The former Bengal and Raven played in 33 regular-season games and three postseason contests before signing with the Giants this offseason. In 2016, Lewis-Harris played in seven games for Cincinnati, was released, and then played in seven games for Baltimore. Last year, he was signed as a free agent by the Broncos, who released him at the end of training camp.

GRANT HALEY: A teammate of Saquon Barkley and an elected team captain at Penn State, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Haley played in 49 games with 36 starts for the Nittany Lions. His career totals included 139 tackles (89 solo), five interceptions, 23 passes defensed, 2.0 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for losses. He also averaged 20.6 yards on 32 kickoff returns (all as a freshman in 2014) and returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in 2016.

B.W. WEBB: Webb has been around the block a few times. From 2013-16, he appeared in games for four teams – Dallas, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and, most recently, New Orleans. He has two career interceptions, one apiece in 2015 and 2016.

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