EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The stories of perseverance and inspiration are told each year in all 32 NFL training camps. Some end in soaring triumphs, others in searing disappointment.
The tales' primary characters are players who encountered a dead end with (at least) one team and join another franchise desperately hoping to impress the coaches enough to earn a spot on the final roster. The Giants, like all teams, have their share of such players. Midway through their preseason schedule, two of those players are taking reps with the starters – wide receiver Cody Latimer and safety Curtis Riley. In addition, B.W. Webb is contending to be the team's third cornerback.
Latimer was a second-round draft choice by Denver in 2014 but in four years with the Broncos caught just 45 passes, three for touchdowns. He signed with the Giants on March 19 and re-joined Tyke Tolbert, his position coach in Denver. The way NFL football is now played, the third receiver is essentially a starter, and Latimer has been lining up regularly in practice with Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard.
"I always say it was meant to be for me to be here," Latimer said today. "I do see it as a second chance. It's a fresh start, fresh team, it's a new coaching staff here. Coming here with Tyke, a coach that previously knew me and knew my work ethic and knew what I had, for him to put in a word for me to try to come here is amazing. It's a second chance that couldn't have happened or didn't need to happen, but it happened for a reason, and I'm making the most of it."
Latimer had just one reception in the Giants' first two games, but no wideout has more than three as Pat Shurmur and his assistants continue to look at numerous players. Hunter Sharp, Russell Shepard and Alonzo Russell are among the players competing with Latimer.
"That position is up for anybody to win," Latimer said. "A lot of guys throughout camp and through these first couple of games are making plays. In our joint practices (last week in Detroit), a lot of guys were out there making plays. Like I said, it's anybody's position, anybody's job and it's going to be the coaches – their ultimate decision to put the best guy out there for the job. We're all working, I'm working hard and competing every day and we'll see what happens when (the regular season opens on) September 9th comes around."
Riley entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie with Tennessee in 2015. He played four games with the Titans in 2016 and seven last year and totaled 11 tackles (seven solo). Riley joined the Giants on March 16 and when training camp opened, he joined Darian Thompson, Andrew Adams and Michael Thomas as contenders who lined up as the first team free safety next to Landon Collins. Riley didn't play in the preseason opener vs. Cleveland because of a hamstring strain. Thompson started vs. the Browns, but suffered the same injury in the game. So Riley played with the first team Friday night in Detroit.
"It felt good being out there with my teammates," Riley said. "We looked good as a team. Special teams, offense, defense, we all played good in all three phases and came out with the win (30-17)."
Asked what he brings to the team at free safety, Riley said, "a lot of range, I can tackle, speed, communication, which is the biggest thing, and just knowing the defense."
But he must do more than simply make plays to win the job.
"It's about communication, knowing what you're supposed to do, knowing where to put other people," he said. "You've got to make plays, the NFL is about making plays. … It's up to the coaches, we just come every day and do what we have to do and leave it up to them."
Webb has had a checkered career since the Dallas Cowboys selected him out of William & Mary on the fourth round of the 2013 draft. In his first four seasons, he played for four teams – Dallas, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and New Orleans. Last year, he played no regular-season games. But Webb is another March signee who has made his mark early with the Giants.
"He's done a really good job covering," Shurmur said. "He covered pretty well outside against Cleveland, he's done a nice job in the slot as well."
Latimer, Riley and Webb have created the competition at their positions that all coaches crave. Now they must continue to fight the good fight to earn playing time in the regular season.
*Shurmur was asked today about the backup quarterbacks behind Eli Manning – Davis Webb (who started vs. the Lions), rookie Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney.
"I feel like they've making progress on a daily basis, and that's a good thing," Shurmur said. "None of them get all the reps, but I think they're doing the best with the reps that they get, and I think all three guys have made very good improvement. They've improved, so I feel good about the progress with those players.
"We have Eli, and then there's really no depth chart there. (Webb) did a good job the other night. He played better than he did against Cleveland, and with the reps he gets this week coming up I'm expecting him to play even better. Within a good performance, the numbers were good and he got a touchdown, but there were still some things in there that we need to clean up to have a winning performance in a real game."
*Wide receiver Travis Rudolph (quad) and cornerback Donte Deayon (hamstring) returned to practice after missing the first two games. They have 19 more days before the roster cutdown to show the coaches what they can do.
"They've got to get back in there," Shurmur said. "Again, their health is a front burner deal for us. We want to make sure they're healthy before we put them out in an uncontrolled setting, so yeah they've got to catch up. That's just the nature of being out."