EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli Manning, Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard did not speak today to reporters, who were more interested in interviewing Jake Carlock and Corey Ballentine, anyway.
That’s how it goes in the NFL preseason, when stars and first-teamers are tethered to the sideline for most if not entire games. The above trio played a combined three snaps, all by Manning, in the Giants’ 31-22 victory against the Jets on Thursday. August is a time for reserves, rookies and roster longshots, and those who step up and make plays elicit interest from the media. Hence, the demand to hear from Carlock and Ballentine, two small-school collegians trying to secure a job in the big league.
Carlock, a rookie free agent linebacker from LIU Post, had the game’s longest and most notable play, an interception of a Davis Webb pass that he returned 59 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. A bit more than two minutes later, Ballentine, a sixth-round draft choice from Washburn University, continued his impressive summer by also picking off a pass thrown by Webb, the former Giants quarterback.
Today, the Giants returned to the practice field and Carlock returned to earth.
“I feel like every person I’ve ever met in my life reached out to me and it was pretty cool,” said Carlock, who has seven siblings. “I tried my best to get back to everyone because I’m just enjoying the moment right now. But I knew that coming back today I just had to get back to work.”
Carlock, who began his collegiate career at Stony Brook, is still scrambling to make the final roster. The 6-2, 238-pounder is listed as the fourth weakside linebacker on the Giants’ unofficial depth chart, behind Lorenzo Carter, third-round draft choice Oshane Ximines and first-year pro Keion Adams.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge, for sure,” Carlock said. “I knew it was going to be tough coming from D2 (Division II), coming from a small school. But they gave me a shot, and them giving me a shot I’m so thankful for, and I knew I was going to give 100 percent every single day. Just to prove to them and give them a reason for me being here, so every day I think the same. I got a great group of guys and coaches around me and they help me so much. It’s easy coming out and working for them.”
Carlock personifies the eternal question of undrafted rookies scrapping for a job – do they better help their cause with spectacular plays or by demonstrating an unyielding work ethic and steady improvement?
“I think it’s both,” Carlock said. “I think the plays definitely help, for sure, but at the same time some of the coaches were coming up to me and telling me how they’ve seen me in film running around and hustling, and I think that’s where it really comes into play. You just got to run around and you’ll get noticed if you’re going all out. Thankfully I’m starting to get some notice, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be and I’m not going to settle now.
“It’s cool to look back and think, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to get into the game. I think a play like that, it’s pretty cool and it definitely makes me feel more comfortable and then coming out I was just excited to get to work, honestly.”
Ballentine has the same attitude, no surprise since he was the 180th overall selection in the NFL Draft. He has been one of the most noticeable defensive players in camp, largely because he continually gets his hands on the ball. The Giants defenders pass out an award when a player has a takeaway. No one has earned more than Ballentine.
“Ever since he has gotten here, he has made plays,” said safety Jabrill Peppers. “He’s been the leader in production, he has five turnover trophies. That stuff you guys saw in the game, he’s been doing that all camp. I’m just happy that guys can finally buy into how you practice is how you are going to play. If you practice at a high level, you are going to play at a high level. He played at a high level, minus the little rinky-dink pass interference call (a 33-yarder that was called only after a replay challenge). Other than that, he did a real good job.”
Ballentine said “it felt really good” to make a big play in the game. While Carlock was fielding congratulations from numerous friends and family members, Ballentine was focused on speaking to one person.
“I called my mom and we were on the phone for an hour and a half,” he said. “It was crazy because we were just talking about how far I have come. Coming from Jamaica and all of the adversity I have been through (including losing his best friend to a shooting that left Ballentine with a bullet in his glute hours after he was drafted), and now being here doing my dream. It’s just crazy being out there on the field. I had never been to an NFL game before and (now) here I am, on the field. There were a lot of emotions going through my head. But I was glad to be out there with my team and I was happy with the way I played. My team is what’s important to me, so it was definitely a good feeling.
“I was up thinking about it all night. It’s just such a crazy feeling. Not everybody can say they are in the NFL, or even playing. For me to even get out there on the field, it was just crazy - and to make a play on the ball. There were a lot of emotions going through my head, so I was really excited.”
There was a lot of that going around among and for the Giants rookies.
Check out the best action shots as Big Blue returned to the practice field on Sunday for training camp.