In today's NFL, special teams can often get overlooked.
Not under Joe Judge.
Since the day he took over as head coach, Judge has put an emphasis on the kicking game. This comes as no surprise following 10 combined years of experience on special teams at Alabama and the New England Patriots.
Judge has repeatedly said the team is looking for guys to play those important positions on special teams, and it sounds like that is exactly what the Giants got in sixth-round RB Gary Brightwell.
Brightwell played in 26 games for Arizona over the last three years, picking up 1,305 yards on 245 rush attempts (5.3 avg.) with nine touchdowns. However, the 5-foot-11 back truly made his mark on the Wildcats' special teams units.
Jeremy Springer, now the special teams coordinator at Marshall, served as Arizona's ST coordinator from 2018-20 and told Big Blue Kickoff Live about his admiration for Brightwell.
"I'll tell you this, when I got to Arizona in 2018, he was one of the guys after my first Spring that just stood out as a kid with a lot of natural instinct when it comes to special teams," Springer said. "He was a great running back for us, but often as me being special teams coordinator, that's what I look at. He could do it all. He's one of those guys that I was able to plug and play through his career at any position on any special teams…
"He's all in, as well. A guy that came into practice, doesn't say much. He's a quiet kid, and you like that about him. A quiet kid but works his tail off. He worked his tail off for us, practiced hard, understands the game. And when it comes to game time, that's where he stands out the most and why he was so special for us at Arizona."
After being selected by the Giants last weekend, Brightwell was quick to answer the media when they asked about what he will bring to the team.
"I'm excited to bring some special teams to the field," Brightwell explained. "I'm going to bring a lot of explosive plays, but my priority right now is getting the playbook, getting on special teams and dominating."
It was not just lip service from the 23-year-old, either.
Brightwell has a genuine passion for special teams that is not often found in running backs today. From punt protection to kickoff returns, he was used all over the field on special teams during his tenure with the Wildcats.
Springer said Brightwell just wanted to be on the field as much as possible because of his love for the game.
"I think he's passionate about it because he loves football," Springer said. "He's a football player. Football players don't care what the position is, don't care what their role is, they just want to be on that football field."
Although his passion may have caught the eyes of the coaching staff, Brightwell played a significant role on special teams because of his feel for the game.
"Gary is a very instinctive football player," Springer said. "He just understands the game. Some people need to really practice non-stop, they need to do tackling drills, leverage drills. Gary doesn't need that. He is an offensive and a defensive football player. He could have played safety for us because he's that natural of a football player. When you have those instincts and you're able to do all of those things on offense and also defensively from a punt and kickoff standpoint, it just makes you a better football player."
It's pretty clear that the fastest way for Brightwell to get on the field with the Giants is through special teams. However, his abilities on offense simply cannot be overlooked.
The sixth-round pick averaged over five yards per carry in 26 games across the last three seasons. In 2020, his first season starting at running back for the Wildcats, Brightwell eclipsed the 100-yard mark in two of five games, while averaging at least 5 yards per rush attempt in three of those contests.
At 5-foot-11, 218-pounds, Brightwell is a good athlete who shows plenty of toughness with the ball in his hands. Springer is confident that if given the opportunity, the rookie back will succeed on both special teams and on offense.
"Man, he is an explosive, really good-in-space type of running back," Springer said. "Once he gets the ball, he's going to make that first and second guy miss. Now once he gets out in the open field, he's able to take it with his explosiveness and his top-end speed. He's also a really strong running back. His frame is going to tell you that he's kind of a nice, big safety-build to him. But he uses all of it. He's very strong, very powerful.
"The Giants are getting a guy that's pretty much the complete package. I'm truly excited to see what he can do, not only on offense but on special teams, as well."
Since being named head coach, Judge has repeatedly said that he is looking for the type of players who are willing to compete for their roles every day. Nothing is handed to anyone on the roster - positions need to be earned.
Based on what his former special teams coach had to say about him, it sounds like Brightwell is going to fit in quite nicely with Judge and the entire coaching staff.
"You're going to get a guy that's going to give it his all, 100 percent, on every single play, whether he's played eight plays straight or it's his only play of the game," Springer proclaimed. "It does not matter. The kid is going to give it his all. He has a lot of people on the East Coast, he's from the East Coast. He really wears his family and his community on the back of his shoulder pads with his name.
"You're going to get his best no matter what it is, like I said. If it's special teams or it's offense, he wants to make a name for himself. I think he has a great opportunity there with the Giants."
As long as he continues to bring that mindset with him to the practice field every day, Brightwell could carve out a nice role for himself on the Giants in 2021 and beyond.
View photos of Giants sixth-round pick Gary Brightwell.