Having a short memory is key for cornerbacks.
Good or bad, they must move onto the next play, the next game, and even the next season. Eli Apple, like the rest of the Giants organization, is trying to do all three. After a productive rookie campaign in which the defense led the way to Big Blue’s first postseason appearance since winning Super Bowl XLVI, the former 10th overall draft selection fell into a sophomore slump in 2017. A few months removed from the forgettable year, Apple admitted this spring that “of course” he was embarrassed about the way it unfolded.
“Nobody wants to go out the way I went out,” he said. “I mean, it was all over the place, so of course.”
With a new coaching staff and general manager, Apple, entering his third season and set to turn 23 next month, received a clean slate. A lot of coaches and executives can say that about a player, but Apple definitely feels like he is starting fresh. When he walked out of the meeting with the top brass, Apple made the decision on the spot.
“Right when they told me, I was just like, you know what, just the way stuff ended [last season], I didn’t want it to ever get to that,” he said. “So every day I’ve just been thinking about just being better, being more positive.”
The early results have also been positive. During spring practices, Apple flashed the traits of the strong, physical cornerback the Giants saw when Apple came out of Ohio State in 2016.
“I think that it speaks to maturity and it speaks to owning successes and failures,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We have to be willing to, OK, if a mistake happened, in order to move forward from a mistake or something that went wrong, we have to admit that it happened and that we were involved in it. What you do is you find a solution, you make the correction and you move on past. That is really what we do play to play. As professionals in this business, we do this probably game to game and season to season. I think whatever happened a year ago and whatever he is talking about, I am sure that is just a mature guy that is reflecting.”
All the while the Giants installed a new scheme under defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
“I’m just trying to grow with the defense and get the techniques down that the coaches are teaching,” Apple said. “Just keep a positive mindset because the whole team, the defensive guys, we know it’s going to be a grinding season. So we’re just trying to take it a day at a time.”
The cornerback depth chart will be an interesting one to watch at training camp and into the preseason.
“Well, it’s competitive,” coach Pat Shurmur said last month at minicamp. “We were talking about it [one morning]. I was sitting with James [Bettcher], just going back over the roster. It’s going to be competitive to see who’s going to be, in my mind, our third, fourth and fifth corner. We’ve got some candidates who are doing some really good things. And then they’re going to have to have a role. Certainly, when teams are in base and we’ve got Jackrabbit [Janoris Jenkins] and Eli out there. But then when teams go to nickel, which is more than half the time, there’s going to have to be a guy step up. And we’ll just have to find the role, and whoever that guy is, we’ve got to do the things that fit what he can do best.”
The coaches spent this spring figuring out what works and doesn’t work on the field as they tailor their schemes to the players.
“That’s part of what this training is,” Shurmur said. “We try to put together an offense and a defense and you come out here and practice different things and each day you emphasize different things to try and get a feel for what the players can do. And then we hone in on what they can do and what works best against, ultimately, Jacksonville in the first game. Then we’ll focus on those things.”
For Apple, the focus is on one thing now – football.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “I think we all are because it’s an aggressive defense and we’re attacking guys. I can’t wait for game days. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”