EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Darrian Beavers never missed a game because of injury at Colerain High School in Ohio or in college at the universities of Connecticut and Cincinnati. Then the Giants selected him in the 2022 NFL Draft, and he sat out his entire rookie season because of a torn left ACL.
"Last year was the first year that I had any major injury where I had to miss a game," Beavers said today. "I hadn't missed a game my whole life. There have been close ones, but I've just sucked it up and played. It was different, obviously, because I had to sit back and learn a whole different life when I wasn't playing football for that whole year."
Beavers is back on the field now and competing to be a starting linebacker in coordinator Wink Martindale's defense – as he was when he suffered his injury a year ago, despite being the last of the Giants' 11 draft choices, a sixth rounder who was selected No. 182 overall. Four of the 11 draft choices suffered torn ACLs before or during the season. The others were Wan'Dale Robinson, Marcus McKethan and D.J. Davidson.
They rehabbed together and formed a draft class support group.
"We got a lot closer," Beavers said. "We all knew what we are going through, so we all tried to stay close and get through it together."
Beavers also sought counsel from veterans who had returned to the field after tearing a knee ligament, notably Saquon Barkley. What was the most important advice he received?
"Get the muscles back," Beavers said. "You can be proactive and try to make sure it never happens again. Just getting the muscles back has been my goal when my injury happened last year. After the surgery, my knee was good. They checked the knee; everything was good with the knee. It's just about getting the muscles back because you can't walk. I couldn't walk for two months after. I had my meniscus, too, so I had to stay off the leg for a little while. I was just trying to prevent the knee from not having any muscles to protect it."
Beavers excelled early in training camp last year and had three solo tackles, including one for a loss, in the Giants' preseason opener in New England. But the following week against Cincinnati in MetLife Stadium, Beavers' ligament tore as he attempted to make a tackle on Bengals running back Trayveon Williams early in the third quarter.
"I had no clue (it was serious)," Beavers said. "It was my first one, so I was like, 'I don't know, I'm walking funny.' After I went down, I was walking around. Obviously, I was hoping it was just a bruise or a strain. You just hope for the best and pray it's not the worst. I was just sitting there in the hotel room like, 'I wonder what's going to happen.' Then, I got the MRI and that's when they found out. When it first happened when I was on the field, I had no clue."
After a rehab that was typically arduous for his injury, Beavers is essentially where he was a year ago, trying to convince the coaches he deserves to play often and perhaps start. Veteran free agent Bobby Okereke will man one inside linebacker position. Beavers' primary competition for the other spot is Micah McFadden, who was selected 36 spots before Beavers in the '22 draft but played in all 17 regular-season games.
"I think that they're both improving every day and they're working hard," Martindale said. "It's great competition in that room. Obviously, with the addition of Bobby O, it's really helped that room."
The Beavers/McFadden competition is intense, but hardly cutthroat.
"Me and Micah are really close," Beavers said. "We are still really close. Right now, we are just trying to find the best fit for Bobby. Obviously, Bobby is the leader of the group. Just trying to figure out who meshes better with him. Who can make plays beside him and complement him best. That's just what it is. For right now, me and him are just trying to be the best we can be to help the team and Bobby. That's what our goal is."
McFadden said this week that his comfort level is "drastically different" than it was when he competed in his rookie camp.
"Obviously, just understanding the playbook and not having to learn a new system or anything like that," he said. "Just having that year under my belt and being able to react and play a little bit faster and now diagnose offensive schemes instead of trying to learn just the defense."
In Beavers' final collegiate game – or, as he calls it, his last "real game" – he led the Bearcats with 10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack in a loss to Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal. After the Giants' three preseason games, Beavers anticipates returning to the big stage when the Giants open their season vs. Dallas on Sunday Night Football on Sept. 10.
"You gotta treat it like football," he said. "You can't overthink anything or do too much out on the field. You gotta do what you've been training to do and do it really well. I think just stay calm and do what you've been taught to do.
"I have played in big games, but nothing like the NFL. I think when the big games happen, I feel like I handle it really well. I just calm-out. You have to be calm; you can't overthink stuff. 'Oh, it's a big game, I got to do crazy stuff.' Nah, you just have to play football."
After the first forced absence of his life, Beavers is thrilled to be doing that again.
Catch up on all the action with the best photos from training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
*Right tackle Evan Neal is in the NFL concussion protocol after he was injured yesterday in a practice collision.
"That happens," coach Brian Daboll said. "Not out of the ordinary, just a little collision on a run play I think it was. Took him out. Always going to be cautious with those guys.
"He's as good as can be, he's just in the protocol. I think he said he feels better than he felt yesterday, so again we will take it slow with those things and let the doctors and training staff go through all that but feels better than he did the day before."
With Neal sidelined, fourth-year pro Matt Peart took the first-team reps at right tackle in practice today. Peart has six career starts in 35 regular-season games, though none in 2022.
"Matt has done a good job this camp," Daboll said. "We have moved him around. You'll see him in there with the ones today over at the right tackle. Maybe the whole practice, maybe we will sub in some other guys, we will see how practice goes, but he's done a good job for us to this point."
The coaches continue to play most of the linemen at several positions.
"It's kind of having that next man up mentality, always being ready," Peart said. "Always making sure I capitalize on those opportunities to be with the ones. Making sure the attention to detail is that much more defined and just playing with my guys."
*Daboll said defensive lineman Ryder Anderson will "be out probably a few weeks here" with a triceps injury.
*Defensive lineman Leonard Williams, wide receiver Sterling Shepard and offensive lineman Jack Anderson returned to practice after either having a rest day or two or missing a short time with injuries.
*Outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari received a second consecutive rest day. "We will give him another day," Daboll said. "Kind of two like what we did with Leo (Williams)."
*This was the final training camp practice open to fans.
"They've been awesome every day," Daboll said of the fans. "Packed house gives the guys a lot of juice. Very thankful for our fans."
*The Giants will fly to Detroit after practice on Monday and practice with the Lions Tuesday and Wednesday. The teams will meet in the preseason opener on Friday.
Daboll said he hasn't spoken recently with Lions coach Dan Campbell, a former Giants tight end, but director of coaching operations Laura Young has worked with her counterpart in Detroit on the practice schedules.
"I'd say once you get going to plan these, the coordinators are in communication to make sure the practices and the scripts - we've kind of set up the scripts and what we want to try and accomplish in the practice back in June or whenever it was we talked," Daboll said. "We will revisit probably this weekend or Monday just to make sure we are on point. What do they have injury wise, what do we have, do we need to cut something down, do we need to add more? Those are conversations that will take place, but I have a lot of respect for Dan. Done a great job. Go out there and have some productive days, that's the most important."
*Several former Giants players from the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl championship teams watched practice, including Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress, Justin Tuck, Ahmad Bradshaw, Kareem McKenzie and Kevin Boothe.
*The Giants Foundation will host a 5K race and kids run, presented by Quest, on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 9:00 a.m. at MetLife Stadium. Net proceeds from the event will benefit The Giants Foundation. After the race, runners will enjoy a post-race festival with appearances by Giants Legends and a live DJ. Registration is now open at Giants.com/5K.