Darnay Holmes earned something this summer other than a top spot on the depth chart at nickel cornerback. He got a nickname.
"I call him Dirty 30," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. "I just love his toughness, and I'm not saying he plays dirty. I'm just talking about how he embraces the grind of practicing every day, doing things right and asking the right questions. He's got some qualities that we haven't had before at that position."
Holmes, a fourth-round draft choice in 2020, has embraced the nod to his playing style and jersey number.
"I think it was something that was earned," Holmes said. "I feel like I'm a relentless player, so I feel like it's very fitting. … I grew up in an impoverished area. Pretty much growing up in those type of terms you've got to always have your guard up and put your best foot forward. When things get rough, you just keep your head down and keep on working. So, as I said before, a very fitting name."
The Giants entered the offseason with questions at cornerback, but Holmes has had all the answers this summer, starting with a full-extension interception on Day 1. It was only the beginning of a productive first two weeks for the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder, who made nine starts in 23 games over his first two NFL seasons.
While there is always some uncertainty when a new general manager and coaching staff come in, Holmes credited his support network to get him mentally and physically right for his third campaign.
"I just want to give a salute to those who put the work in for me in a matter of giving me insight and giving me wisdom," Holmes said. "The OTAs played a major role for our early success – understanding the system, understanding the scheme. Just the people who worked on my body beforehand once I got up here. My coaches, my lady, my family, they all played a role in my mental state now and just where I am being later on in life."
View photos of Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes through the years.
Fellow cornerback and California native Adoree' Jackson has known Holmes since their high school days (when, Jackson said, Holmes spurned USC for UCLA) and has tracked his evolution.
"I've seen growth in him as a person and that displays in his game," Jackson said last week. "So, I get to see him coming into his own and just doing his thing, doing what he loves to do, probably what he has been doing since he was in Calabasas High School. It's just cool seeing somebody from the whole journey perspective. I've known him since I was 17, 16, and I'm about to be 27. It's like 10 years of knowing him and getting to see him at the highest level being able to play and compete, it's just awesome to see."
And what everyone notices is Holmes' desire to compete against the best.
"What I like about Nay is, A: he's been productive while he's in there," Martindale said. "And B: he wants to go against the best every time he gets in the one-on-one reps. I love his toughness."
Meanwhile, his former defensive coordinator also helped to put Holmes on a better path. Last year, he had a "heart-to-heart" conversation with Patrick Graham, who told the UCLA product not to be so "Cali cool" on the field.
"I wasn't getting on the line right when I got out of the huddle," Holmes recalled. "Pretty much once you get in line, once the offense breaks the huddle, once you get in line, you're able to be more observant. You're able to read what they put right in front of you. So that little tip right there has taken my game to the next level, for sure. That was a much-needed thing that he instilled in me."
Things started to click midway through 2021, when Holmes started three times in a four-game stretch and intercepted a pass in a Week 12 win over Philadelphia. But his season ended there due to an injury to his ribs.
"It was a difficult thing to come to terms with," Holmes said. "Laying up in the hospital bed, and I was, say I was ruled out for six weeks. I feel like I was at a point where the tide was turning in my favor, but at the end of the day, it was something that came and I just had to deal with it. Pretty much when the injury came, I was able to reflect a lot and just be a student of the game, learn from the other guys, just be locked in and understand more of the system that was being taught then. More of the game of football, Football 101 type of things."
Now the avid chess player looks to graduate to the next level.
"I'll say I'm a guy who is very open-minded, so I'm constantly evolving," Holmes said. "I'm more in tune with things. I'm in tune with understanding that you're never going to be able to eliminate doubt. You're never going to be able to eliminate fear. You're never going to be able to eliminate the inevitable of losing reps. Having the understanding that when I hit that field, it might not go my way and be able to respond. I feel like I'm more grounded and more free flowing."