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5 Things We Learned

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5 things we learned (11/9): Belton's growing role

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The Giants were back at it on Wednesday as they continue preparations for this weekend's matchup against the Houston Texans.

Coming off the bye week, the Giants will look to bounce back from their Week 8 loss against the Seattle Seahawks. It was only the team's second loss of the season, and after their first defeat in Week 3, they rebounded to beat the Chicago Bears the following week, 20-12.

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey met with the media Wednesday to discuss the game against the Texans and the second half of the season.

Here are five things we learned today.

1. Golladay returns to practice

When the Giants took the practice field on Wednesday, a familiar face was out there with the rest of the wide receivers. Kenny Golladay returned to practice this week after missing the last four games with a knee injury. Golladay has caught just two passes for 22 yards this season, both of which came in the season opener. But the Giants' receiver corps looks a lot different than it did in Week 1, as Sterling Shepard was lost for the season due to an ACL injury while Kadarius Toney was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Mike Kafka has been impressed with what he's seen out of the veteran receiver and is glad to see him back on the field.

"Kenny came out yesterday, had a good day of practice," said the offensive coordinator. "Really, the standard for him and for every player is come out, practice hard, work on your techniques and assignments and then when your role is defined in the game, go out and execute…

"I think Kenny has done a good job. Kenny came in and he's been a great teammate. He's come in and worked hard when he's been practicing. I know he's gotten a little dinged up, so he worked his tail off to get ready for this week. We're happy that he's available."

"That's really my main goal, is to hit the ground running," Golladay said about his return. "I don't want to come in the game and act like I lost step as far as playbook wise, like I'm not mentally prepared. So, even when I wasn't playing, I was making sure I was mentally prepared the entire time as if I was playing. That's really my main goal, when I do get in there it's not like a fall off."

Wan'Dale Robinson missed four games earlier in the season as well but has seen his role grow since returning. Over the last three games since he got back on the field, the rookie has been targeted 15 times and has turned it into 11 receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, after playing 23 percent of the snaps in his first game back, Robinson has played 69 percent of the offensive snaps in each of the last two games.

"Wan'Dale is continuing to grow in the offense as a young player," said Kafka. "He's doing all the right things in the classroom and getting on the same page with the quarterback. That's really important for a young guy and then learning how to be a pro. I think he's done a good job of that to date, and I think he'll continue to do that throughout this week."

The Giants did bring in one wide receiver prior to the bye week with the addition of Isaiah Hodgins, who was claimed off waivers from the Bills. Buffalo drafted Hodgins in the sixth round of the 2020 draft, and the 24-year-old went on to spend the last two-plus seasons there. He has plenty of experience with Brian Daboll and the offense, something that has helped him pick up the Giants' system pretty quickly.

"There's definitely a lot of familiarity with Isaiah in the offense and having some experience with that," Kafka said. "He's been great to come in and plug into the offense. There's a lot of familiarity for him offensively. There's some new things that we might have changed and just different verbiage, but he's handling that great. Again, today is another one of those big days as far as workload from a game plan standpoint."

2. Replacing McKinney

The Giants were dealt a tough injury blow when it was revealed that starting safety Xavier McKinney hurt his hand during the bye week. McKinney was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list Tuesday, which will force him to miss at least the next four games. But similar to when other players have gotten hurt this season, the Giants are embracing the "next man up" mentality.

Several players are looking at larger roles in the defense during McKinney's absence, starting with Julian Love. Love will wear the green dot for the foreseeable future, meaning he will receive the play calls from the sideline and relay them to the defense on the field. Wearing the green dot is obviously a significant role, and one that the fourth-year safety has earned. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale knows that Love is more than capable of thriving in this new role.

"I'm very comfortable with Julian – have been since day one with both those safeties (Love and McKinney)," the defensive coordinator said on Wednesday. "And they're both bright, young players that are going to have great careers. So, I'm excited for Julian to have this opportunity. He does a great job communicating on the back end, and I'm glad we have him."

Another player that will see more action now is Dane Belton. The rookie safety has totaled 19 tackles (15 solo), one tackle for loss, one QB hit, one pass defensed and two fumble recoveries in seven games this season, including two starts. Belton has impressed his defensive coordinator with his professionalism and approach to the game ever since he was drafted in the fourth round of this year's draft.

"He's a student of the game," said Martindale. "He takes it very serious as a profession. That's what jumps out at me. He's a really mature kid for being a rookie. I don't know if you all have had a chance to visit with him yet or not, but he's very quiet. You got to get him talking louder and things like that, but I just like how he approaches the game. The plays will come for him because he keeps doing the right thing. He's not an error repeater; he doesn't make the same mistake twice. I think as a rookie, he's ahead of the game."

Martindale also mentioned Jason Pinnock as a player that could see more playing time with McKinney sidelined. Pinnock, who was claimed off waivers from the Jets at the end of training camp, has one fumble recovery in five games this year.

3. 'A lot of trust' between Kafka, DJ

Daniel Jones has seen growth in several areas of his game this season. He enters Week 10 with a league-high five game-winning drives, while his 363 rushing yards ranks fourth among the league's quarterbacks. Perhaps most importantly, Jones is about halfway through the season with just four total turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) under his belt, putting him on pace to easily shatter his previous career-best turnover mark. It's clear that the coaching staff is confident in Jones and his ability, due in part to the constant communication between the quarterback and the offensive play-caller.

"There's definitely a lot of trust between me and Daniel," Kafka told the media. "We meet very often, especially in the offseason. During training camp, we were meeting every single morning for an hour talking through the installs, talking ranking stuff. We talk multiple times a week about the install. At the end of the week, we go through every single play on the call sheet, rank it, talk about it, see how we're going to use it within a game.

"If a game goes one way, we'll go this direction. If a game goes the other way, we'll go this direction. We definitely talk a lot about that. He does a great job with it, he's a pro and he's been around here for a few years now and has seen a few things. It's been good to lean on him and get his comfortability with the offense."

The quarterback's passing numbers are a bit down this season, as his 174.9 passing yards per game would be the lowest of his career by a decent margin. However, Kafka reiterated to the media on Wednesday that the quarterback continues to execute the game plan efficiently.

"Daniel is doing a great job," said the offensive coordinator. "He's doing everything we're asking him to do, and I think as the offense continues to progress and we keep on finding ways to get our best players the football, he'll continue to do what we ask of him."

View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 10 matchup against the Houston Texans.

4. Pierce 'angriest runner in the league'

Texans running back Dameon Pierce has been downright dominant this season. The rookie fourth-round pick is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, taking 148 rushes for 678 yards and three touchdowns while adding another 20 receptions for 98 yards and an additional score. Pierce has shown a tremendous ability to shed defenders in his first season. He broke nine tackles against the Eagles last week, bringing his season total up to 50, the third-most in the league.

"I don't know who said something to him or did something to him to make him so angry, but that might be the angriest runner in the league," Martindale said. "He is, I'll give you my comparisons again: Old, old school, Earl Campbell, Jamal Lewis. (Pierce is) one of those big power backs that has great balance. Runs mad every time he touches it. Has quick feet. It's going to be (a) tough assignment."

Martindale went on to say that the Texans offense starts with Pierce, which is why he's currently one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year. The Giants defense is faced with a big challenge in slowing down Pierce, and they will have to do it a little short-handed. Nick Williams suffered a biceps injury during the Week 8 loss in Seattle, and Daboll told the media Tuesday that the injury will keep the defensive lineman out for the rest of the season. Martindale mentioned a few different ways the unit might replace Williams on Sunday.

"It's going to be the next guy up," the defensive coordinator said. "Hank (defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux) will come up probably for him or (defensive lineman) Ryder (Anderson) – one of those two. (General manager) Joe (Schoen) and Dabs (head coach Brian Daboll) handle that. It's just the next guy up. We have a very solid outside (line)backer room as well. When you're in sub (package), you call them defensive ends. When you're in base (defense), you call them outside (line)backers. Some of those guys like Haddy (outside linebacker Jihad Ward) and some of those other guys can go inside, especially in pass rush situations. So, we'll just keep hammering away."

5. Competition at punt returner

The last time we saw the Giants on the field, the special teams unit had two turnovers as Richie James muffed two punts, which the Seahawks recovered. James suffered a concussion on the second play, which forced him to miss the remainder of the game. Coach Brian Daboll told reporters on Wednesday that James had cleared concussion protocol, allowing him to return to practice on a normal basis. But special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey would not commit to James returning to his role as the punt returner against the Texans.

"We're going to let the week play out and see what happens," McGaughey said. "We've got a bunch of guys back there catching them. Obviously, you can't put the ball on the ground. We all know that. That's a no brainer. You know you can't turn the ball over and put it on the ground. So, we'll see what happens once we get towards the back end of the week."

Cornerback Darnay Holmes is listed on the unofficial depth chart as the backup punt returner, and was back there for the final punt return against the Seahawks. Holmes is firmly in the mix for the role for Sunday's game, as are several other players, including practice squad wide receiver Khalil Pimpleton. Pimpleton was signed to the practice squad on September 1 after he was waived by the Detroit Lions, and had two punt return touchdowns in his final season at Central Michigan last year.

"Pimp's been working all season. Since he's been here, he's been back there catching punts," said the special teams coordinator. "So, he gets his work every day, he catches after practice. I mean all those guys are catching. Darnay's catching after practice, during practice, but no, all those guys are back there catching. They're all working at it and all trying to get better at it and that's our whole thing. Just trying to get better every single week and contribute in a positive fashion."

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