On cutdown day in the NFL, the cruelest sound to a player on the roster bubble is a ringing phone. That's because it's probably the coach who wants to see you, almost certainly to tell you to hand in your playbook because you didn't make the team.
For Giants free agent rookies Henry Hynoski, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger, the calls thankfully never came. Hynoski, a fullback from Pittsburgh, and Herzlich and Paysinger, linebackers from Boston College and Oregon, respectively, are the only non-drafted rookies to make the 53-man roster. The Giants began preparing today for their regular season opener on Sunday in Washington.
"After six o'clock, if they didn't call you, then you know you're in good shape," Hynoski said today. "After that, you realize it's for real now."
Hynoski and Herzlich both admitted to being nervous on Saturday, so they looked for something to do to pass the time until 6 p.m., the NFL deadline for making roster cuts.
"I was with (safety) Tyler Sash (a sixth-round draft choice who also survived the cut) and Spencer Paysinger and Henry Hynoski for breakfast at IHOP and we tried to get our minds off of it by gorging ourselves with pancakes," Herzlich said. "I went to Chili's and sat by myself in the afternoon watching the BC football game, because I couldn't find it on T.V. anywhere else. So I just sat there by myself, tried to keep my mind off of it. When six o'clock rolled around and I didn't get a call, it was the most anticlimactic happy ending that you could think of. 'Alright my phone didn't ring, let's go celebrate,' type of thing."
"We kept ourselves pretty busy," Hynoski said. "We went out for breakfast and lunch with some of our other teammates. My parents came through on their way back from New England, so I got to hang out with them for a little while. We kept our mind off things. Obviously, it was still on our minds, but not as much if we were just sitting around doing nothing."
Paysinger caught the coaches' eye early in camp and took some first-team snaps when Michael Boley missed a couple of days of practice. But that guaranteed him nothing on a day when the Giants had to remove 27 players from their roster.
"I was a little nervous because it is a business," Paysinger said. "If you do well or you do bad, cuts have to be made. I got a call at about three or four o'clock that said I was good but something could change before five or six o'clock. When 6:01 came, I kind of let the air out."
Herzlich's story is already well-known. He missed the 2009 season at Boston College after contracting Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. After intense treatment and rehabilitation, he returned to start all 13 games for the Eagles last season. Despite recording 65 tackles and four interceptions, Herzlich was not drafted. The Giants signed him as soon as the free agency signing period commenced and he impressed the coaches throughout training camp with his play on both defense and special teams.
Simply making the roster was never the goal. Now he wants to contribute to the team in the regular season. And Herzlich is well aware of what lies ahead.
"Everything picks up," Herzlich said. "The speed picks up a little bit. You saw it even today (in practice). There was a little bit more of a sense of urgency in terms of getting things done right, getting things done fast. I think that just carries over. I think that the Giants have a great intensity during camp. I think that that helped build up to this week. I think this week it's all about business."
Hynoski was comparatively under the radar. He had only 37 rushing attempts and 40 receptions in 31 games at Pitt. Hynoski scored two career touchdowns. But he is a powerful and relentless blocker who excels at the dirty work so vital to football teams. Hynoski takes great pride in his ability to help spring running backs free.
"You have to be crazy," Hynoski said of his job description. "To do what a fullback does, something's got to be a little bit off with you. You have to have that right mentality to go out and hit somebody every play."
Hynoski had hoped to be drafted, but all 32 teams passed on him through seven rounds. So throughout the lockout he worked like a maniac, knowing he would have to overcome the odds any rookie free agent faces to make a team.
"The whole thing about not being drafted, it really just adds more fuel to the fire," Hynoski said. "It just made me more determined this summer when I was training. I never worked so hard in my life to improve myself as a player.
"I always felt very confident from day one that I was going to make the team. You have to have that mentality. You never know. You have to be prepared for anything. But I came out every day preparing like I'm going to be here and I'm going to be a contributor on this team. That's the attitude I took every day. I went out every day and gave 110 percent on everything – preparation, effort and I did all I could. I knew if I didn't make it I had put everything into it and I wouldn't have any regrets."
Now he's preparing to play his first NFL game, well aware that the next hurdle is higher than the one he just cleared.
"This is the NFL - you have to come every day ready to work," Hynoski said. "It's going to pick up and keep getting more intense. And I'm ready for the challenge."
Paysinger and Herzlich are part of an unusual and talented group. Along with draft choices Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams, they give the Giants four rookie linebackers.
"It is unusual," Paysinger said. "Truthfully, I would have liked to stay and play with all the rookies that came in with us back in July but obviously it is a business. We do have four rookie linebackers and I don't think there is any other team in the country that kept four rookie linebackers. All of us individually have something we can bring to special teams, Mark is a bigger guy who can run down the field, Jacquian can cover people and Greg is really good inside the box and I can do a couple things, so we all bring something to the table."
After surviving Saturday's cutdown, all of them are happy to still be sitting at the Giants' table.
*Coach Tom Coughlin said today that defensive end Osi Umenyiora probably won't play against the Redskins. Umenyiora had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 19.
"I don't think so," Coughlin said. "It is a little early."
*The Giants' other starting defensive end, Justin Tuck, did not practice today because of the stinger he suffered last week vs. the Jets.
"He is well on his way," Coughlin said. "He feels good but it is just…Wednesday would be a better day for him."
*Last season, Bear Pascoe played almost exclusively at fullback. This year, he should line up more at his natural position, tight end.
"He plays both," Coughlin said. "He plays tight end and he plays fullback. We do have Henry to help, though. You will see him in more of a rotation as a tight end rather than the other way but I wouldn't exclude him."
*In addition to Pascoe, Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum will see time at tight end. Ballard, who played in just one game as a rookie in 2010, understands that fans are concerned about the position after the departure of Kevin Boss.
"Absolutely. When you lose a player like Kevin Boss, he is a great player and he caught a lot of balls (35) for us last year," Ballard said. "I guess it is hard for fans to realize that when he leaves, there is not going to be anybody here to replace him and I'm not saying anybody is trying to replace him. We are just trying to help out the team the best we can. We are going to try hard to fill a void but I think these three guys all have something to bring to the table and I think that we are going to do well together."
Beckum is more of a receiver than blocker and he looks forward to moving around the formation.
"I think it plays right into my hands and I did a lot of that in college," he said. "A lot of times when you move a tight end, you can see what coverage it is and obviously if you have man pre-snap, it is a big clue. Hopefully, I can cure that and make mismatches against the defense."
*The Giants have 10 rookies on their roster, 7 draft choices and three free agents.
"It better be a good thing, it has to be a good thing," Coughlin said. "They bring vitality, they bring energy and I just hope we can get it down, chain it down and get it in the right direction."
*Center Jim Cordle, who was waived on Saturday, was signed to the practice squad. The Ohio State product spent the entire 2010 season on the Giants' practice squad.
The Giants now have seven players on their practice squad, one short of the maximum.
*Harry Carson, the Giants Hall of Fame linebacker, will discuss and sign copies of his new book,
"Captain For Life," at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, on the campus of Montclair State, on Thursday, Sept. 15 from 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
A nine-time Pro Bowl selection during his storied career (1976-88), Carson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
For information or to reserve a signed copy, please call (973) 655-2378.