Most draft prospects had three months to prepare for their pro day; Sam Beal had one.
While rookies have had three months of organized team activities, minicamps and invaluable time in meeting rooms with their coaches to prepare for training camp, Beal has two weeks.
Such is life for a supplemental draft pick, and an unexpected one at that. Last week, the Giants selected the Western Michigan cornerback in the third round, forfeiting their choice in that round in the 2019 NFL Draft. "We feel like we're getting our third-round pick now," general manager Dave Gettleman said. Beal was set to return for his senior season with the Broncos, but issues with his academic eligibility arose, leading him to declare for the supplemental draft and prepare for his pro day. It was a one-man showcase in late June attended by all 32 teams.
"He did a great job," Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester said on "Big Blue Kickoff Live" on Giants.com. "We brought him in and it just got to the point academically, it was getting to the percentages where [it was] too close that he wasn't going to make it. As much as I want to coach Sam again, my job is to do what's best for my players. So we brought him in and said this is your best bet right now.
"And that hurt him a little bit because he wanted to come back. A lot of scouts were telling us that if he came back, he might have been a first-round draft pick next year. So that's why they said, 'Come back because you're just going to rise and rise … and you're going to be a high, high guy.' And academically it didn't work out that way. For one month straight, he had to try to get [ready]. What most guys do in three months, he has to do in one month. He decided he wanted to train at our school with our trainer, which was awesome because there was some familiarity there and lot of guys would go ship off down to Arizona or Florida."
And now he is shipping off to East Rutherford.
Beal is the organization's first supplemental draft selection since they chose safety Tito Wooten from Northeast Louisiana in the fourth round in 1994. He is also the highest supplemental draft pick since wide receiver Josh Gordon was selected by the Browns in the second round in 2012.
Despite the truncated schedule to get ready, Beal impressed scouts at his pro day. The only blip came when he stepped on the scale. The 6-foot-1 Beal weighed 177 pounds after playing around 190 in college.
"He was shocked," Lester said. "You should have seen his face when he weighed in at 177. I could see it on his face. I was like, 'Were you expecting [that]?' 'Coach, I haven't been eating a lot. I'm kind of nervous.' And it was a weird pro day. It was a one-man show with 42 members of the NFL there, and I think he was a little bit nervous because it kind of all happened fast."
Fortunately, Beal has to go through that process only once. Now he is itching to jump into the Giants' playbook and meet his new coaches and teammates.
"The biggest thing I think you're going to find with Sam is as far as a cover guy goes, he's about as good as I've ever seen in the business," said Lester, who has risen through the coaching ranks after four years as the starting quarterback at Western Michigan from 1996-99. "His speed, his hips, he's long, he's a 6-footer, he can run, he can change direction. We knew when we put him in man coverage against the best receiver on the other team that it was a lock. It didn't matter whether we played USC, it didn't matter; he was a guy that athletically, with that length and speed, could cover anybody."
Beal started 23 of 37 games in his career and recorded 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. Beal, a converted wide receiver once upon a time, was asked to play press man coverage "99 percent" of the time at Western Michigan. So don't get caught up in his interception total.
"That's the funniest thing, people who don't understand football think that in man coverage you would get interceptions," Lester said. "And that's exactly opposite. In zone coverage, the more eyes on the quarterback, the more interceptions you get. He had a couple of them. He's got to work on high-pointing the ball a little more. He's got good hands, but literally in man-to-man coverage, it's turn around and react because the ball is two feet from you. You don't get to anticipate and undercut something. His hands are good. He showed that at his pro day."
Beal was part of a dynamic Broncos backfield playing alongside Darius Phillips, a fifth-round selection by the Bengals. While Phillips set the FBS career record with 12 career return touchdowns, including an FBS record five pick-sixes, Beal was known as the more physical and aggressive of the two cornerbacks.
"A lot of that part, especially with secondary guys, is just a willingness to throw his head in there [against the run]," Lester said. "[Beal] has zero problem doing that. He is a tough kid. He is one of the probably, if not the, hardest worker on our team. He's a guy that can run for days and you can push him and push him, and he responds with a big smile on his face. I don't think I've ever seen him tired. But he has a willingness to stick his nose in there. When he had to come set an edge, he had zero issues doing it."
Lester said Beal took the biggest leap last season with his technique at the line of scrimmage. Beal would often rely on his speed, but secondary coach Cory Sanders, who is now the safeties coach at Pitt, taught him how to use his hands more efficiently. It rounded out Beal as a complete package. While he played primarily on the outside, his college coaches could see him being versatile enough on the inside.
"Sometimes you look at those taller, longer guys and you think those guys only have long speed – just A-to-B fast," Sanders said. "But Sam can drop his hips and he has short area quickness in transition just like a 5-10 kid. So you're looking at long guy that can match up with guys on the perimeter, and I think he's versatile enough to be able to do other things because of him being able to drop his hips and being able to flip his hips and just his transitions and his burst and break coming out."
While we wait to see what defensive coordinator James Bettcher and defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo cook up with Beal, they will be getting a humble, coachable player.
"Off the field, Sam is just a quiet guy that doesn't bring a lot of attention to himself," Sanders said. "You're not going to get a guy that's just out there, a Hollywood guy. Sam's just going to come out there and be a good off-the-field guy that just wants to show up and go to work. He's a family guy, loves his mom, loves his brother, loves his family. He's a family guy that cares about his family and he's just going to be a quiet, humble kid off the field."
On the field, it's different. Lester told the story of how he asked Beal to toughen up the wide receiver corps by getting in their face and playing physical in practice.
"He would always turn around and look at me and smile and wink," Lester said. "It was the funniest thing, and my guys are much tougher now. They'd get up, they'd shake hands at the end of every brawl that happens at the line of scrimmage during one-on-ones, and Sam would just smile and wink at me every time. He did a heck of a job."
Sanders had a similar story that featured a wink and smile from one of his star pupils. Beal would always bug him to give him a shot at safety. A coach can only take so much before giving into the player.
"One time when we were doing some prep bowl game stuff, he's like, 'Coach, come on, let me go to safety.'" Sanders recalled. "I'm like, 'Sam, just go, let some of these guys get some reps.' And he slides in there. I remember, he slides right in there, that son of a gun, he slides in there and they literally run a smash concept. Sam, you see pedal and you see him break on the corner route. As soon as that slot starts to drop his hips, he breaks on that corner route and he almost picks the ball off. He got hands on it, it was beautiful, and he just looks at me, he starts smiling and says, 'I told ya.' I said, 'Get your tail off the field now.'"