EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They don't share the same huddle, but Julian Love believes Collins Johnson is his kindred spirit.
Love, the Giants' fourth-year defensive back, and Johnson, a wide receiver who is a third-year pro and second-season Giant, are both easygoing and friendly off the field yet fiercely competitive on it. They can each help the team in a variety of roles. And each could make significant contributions to the 2022 Giants.
"His role has been like mine in recent years," Love said today. "He's a guy who has always been available, who does the job the right way, who's the nicest guy in the locker room, around the building. Off the field, he's doing the right things. All he's needed was some opportunity. You're seeing that, and you're seeing him flash. He's a good receiver."
Johnson must be included on anyone's list of Giants players who have performed impressively in training camp. At 6-6 and 220 pounds, Johnson is the Giants' tallest and heaviest receiver, a big target who seemingly every day makes several routine receptions and one or two with a striking degree of difficulty.
"It's not so much the size," coach Brian Daboll said. "It's his overall intelligence of being able to line up at multiple spots. The ability to separate and get open is important and then make plays on the football when he has an opportunity to."
In the Giants' 23-21 preseason opening victory in New England on Thursday, Johnson led the team in targets (8), catches (7) and receiving yards (82). He compared his performance to a hot batter in baseball getting two or three hits in a game.
"A receiver's the same way," he said. "As a receiver, you definitely get in a groove, and I definitely felt like I got in my groove the other night against the Patriots. It felt nice to get in that groove again. Like I said, I just try to get in that groove in practice and one-on-one reps and everything I do. It didn't surprise me on gameday because I try to prepare in that mental space. When it happened when the lights were on, I was ready for it."
"He's made the most of his opportunities," Daboll said. "We've talked to these guys about earning it, and he's certainly earned it with his opportunities that he's gotten. If he does well, he'll get more opportunities. He's smart. He's got position flexibility in terms of intelligence and understanding the roster. He's made plays. He's done a nice job."
The only blemish on Johnson's ledger in the game occurred early in the second quarter, when he caught a 17-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor but fumbled when he was hit by Terrance Mitchell. The ball was recovered for New England by Malcolm Butler.
"Obviously, it bothers you," Johnson said. "When you play, you want to be the best you can be and make every play, show everyone that they can trust you – your teammates and your coaches. And putting the ball on the ground is unacceptable. Mistakes happen in football, and it's how you overcome it. I tried to just move on from that play and continue the rest of the game to the best of my ability and address it in the film room and just won't let it happen again."
Johnson entered the NFL in 2020 from the University of Texas as the Jacksonville Jaguars' fifth-round draft choice. As a rookie, he played in 14 games and finished with 18 receptions for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
Last year, the Jaguars waived him at the end of training camp and the Giants claimed him. He played in 12 games with one start and caught 11 passes for 105 yards, with a long reception of 16 yards. Johnson recorded season-high totals of five catches for 51 yards in his Giants debut vs. Atlanta on Sept. 26. But he had just one reception in the second half of the season.
"I definitely think I've gotten better since last year," Johnson said. "I just try to take it day-by-day and be better than I was yesterday at the end of the day because I truly feel the moment is all we got."
Johnson said he did "nothing special" in his workouts to prepare for this season.
"Just doing the ordinary with extreme focus," he said. "At the end of the day, every little moment in meetings, workouts, film, every little treatment, every little thing I do, I just try to do it with intent. And I feel like you just stack a bunch of good days over and over again, you can see results."
His teammates have seen them.
"Collin is a guy whose skillset is pretty special," Love said. "He's been that guy for us who is available on special teams and competing on offense. He's always been selfless in the way that guys have been down, and he's stepped up and played some good snaps for us. So now, it's on him. And he's been really taking that on to really be the guy for us. I think he has all the skills, all the tools you want to see. And now just getting him some good reps and him earning his spot has really been fun to see this training camp."
The Giants' wide receivers room include Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, Wan'Dale Robinson, Darius Slayton and Richie James, so Johnson is guaranteed nothing.
"Whoever's been in the league for a long time will tell you never count numbers," he said. "Never worry about stuff that's not in your control. Because that will just affect what is in your control, and that's just your attitude and your effort and what you do in practice. I don't care if I'm going with the threes, twos, ones. At the end of the day, I'm going to give my best effort. We all want to be on the 53 (man roster) and help this team win. But at the end of the day, I control what's in my control.
"I literally look at myself in the mirror after I walk in from practice to the locker room and I ask if I gave it my best today. If the answer's yes, I can be happy with that. And if the answer's no, I'm not doing it right. I just got to continue to go hard and take it day-by-day, practice-by-practice. And if I gave it my all, I could live with that."
As can the Giants.
*Daboll said the starters will play in the Giants' second preseason game on Sunday at home against Cincinnati. But he has yet to decide how long their stint will be.
*The Giants had more than 20 players limited or out of practice today, including three who left practice yesterday: center Jon Feliciano and linebackers Jihad Ward and Elerson Smith.
*Injuries old and new left the Giants with only 10 offensive linemen in practice. The first group was center Ben Bredeson, guards Mark Glowinski (R) and Max Garcia (L) and tackles Evan Neal (R) and Andrew Thomas (L). The second team line was center Garrett McGhin, guards Devery Hamilton and Eric Smith, and tackles Will Holden and Roy Mbaeteka.
*Defensive line coach Andre Patterson returned to the team after missing the start of camp for medical reasons. Assistant line coach Bryan Cox continued to coach the unit at practice.