EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Cullen Jenkins traveled the hard road to NFL success.
He entered the NFL as a rookie free agent from Central Michigan, was cut at the end of his first training camp, and spent a season playing for the Cologne Centurions in NFL Europe. Jenkins made the Green Bay Packers' roster on his second try and is now in his 12th NFL season and third one with the Giants as one of the team's most versatile and productive defensive linemen.
Jenkins has great respect for players who overcame the same long odds he faced to find NFL success, which is why he has an affinity for Kerry Wynn.
The second-year pro is one of the Giants' best stories in this young season. Wynn made the team last season as an undrafted rookie from Richmond. Inactive for the first 11 games, he contributed in the final five weeks, including a game in St. Louis in which he had a sack, interception and fumble recovery. This year, he has played in every game, including his first two career starts, and been one of the team's steadiest defenders. Along the way he's picked up a lot of admirers and supporters, including a wizened teammate who fully appreciates his journey.
"I know what he's been through, I know what that road is like," Jenkins said. "When those opportunities come, they're few and far between. To be able to take advantage of it like he has, it's good to see. I try to coach him up through the road that he's going through. Guys coached me up when I was going through it, so just trying to pass the knowledge on."
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants face San Francisco this Sunday
Wynn's talent and Jenkins' tutelage have paid off. Wynn is tied for fifth on the Giants with 22 tackles (16 solo), including two for losses, the kind of production the Giants need from a D-end with Jason Pierre-Paul rehabbing in Florida and Robert Ayers sidelined with a hamstring injury. In the victory in Buffalo last Sunday, Wynn had a team-high eight tackles, including a takedown of quarterback Tyrod Taylor on the goal line stand early in the fourth quarter.
"I really like his motor," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He plays hard, the kid plays hard. And he's in the right spot and he's smart. He's a tough guy."
"He's been great," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "I think Kerry Wynn has been one of our more consistent, dependable, physical, fast football players, and we've needed it obviously out there at defensive end."
Wynn made a favorable first impression with Spagnuolo soon after the coordinator was hired in January, a time when few players give themselves an opportunity to do so. In the 3½ months between the end of the season and the beginning of the offseason conditioning program, the locker and weight rooms are mostly empty. But Wynn was a regular visitor.
"When I got here back in January, Kerry Wynn was here every day," Spagnuolo said. "He worked as hard as anybody in the offseason and that's with me not really knowing who all the guys were, how they worked. But I was impressed, Kerry was around every day and Jay Bromley - those guys worked out together. He's playing good football for us now."
Wynn impresses the coaches even when it's not game day.
"I texted Kerry, it might have been two days ago, because I was watching practice tape," Spagnuolo said. "(I had) a lot of complimentary things to say, because of how he had been playing, and certainly that way in the game."
Told that Spagnuolo had shared that with reporters, Wynn didn't puff out his chest or pump his fist. Actually, he didn't even smile. Wynn is pleasant and approachable, but very reserved.
"It feels good," Wynn said. "I've played for a lot of coaches, and not a lot of them would do that. It feels good to have a coach that would do that. It makes you want to play for him even harder."
Wynn prefers to let his play speak for him.
"I like them like that," Coughlin said.
"He doesn't say too much," Jenkins said. "He can be a little funny at times, but he's pretty quiet for the most part."
Wynn said his recent production isn't due to magic or good fortune.
"I think it's the little stuff," he said, "just watching film and trying to get keys on certain positions guys may be in and getting a little heads up on it and just doing the thing I've been coached to do. Just trying to make sure I'm out there and doing what I'm supposed to be doing and helping the team be productive and be productive out there and helping the team win."
He will need to do all that and more on Sunday, when the Giants host the 49ers. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a dangerous runner who can pick up big chunks of yardage if he gets outside the ends.
"All these offensive systems, especially the one coming in here, are going to test your edges and the guys at the defensive end spot," Spagnuolo said.
"You have to be patient, play him inside out and force him to the sideline," Wynn said.
Wynn will take the field with the same relentlessness he has always brought to the game, an attitude that is exacerbated for all players who are passed over in the draft.
"Let's be honest, when you're a draft pick, you come in and the organization is putting faith in you," Jenkins said. "When draft picks work out, it makes organizations look good. Teams are usually more willing to work with the draft picks than the undrafted players. So for an undrafted player to come in and make a name for yourself, you've really got to be on top of everything."
Wynn understood that from the day he reported to the Giants last year.
"I've always had kind of a chip on my shoulder coming from a small town, and high school, and a small school in college," Wynn said. "I don't think it will ever go away."
The Giants hope it doesn't.
- The Giants declared four players out of the game Sunday night because of injuries: defensive ends Robert Ayers (hamstring) and George Selvie (calf), linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) and wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf).
Ayers will miss his third consecutive game. Selvie has played in every game and started the last three, and Kennard has started every game. Cruz has yet to play this season.
"(Kennard) has had a very good start to the season, so obviously we lose his energy, his enthusiasm, his love of the game, his physical play," Coughlin said. "It's unfortunate that he's out this week, but hopefully he'll be back soon."
Three players are questionable: linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who did not practice, and cornerbacks Jayron Hosley (concussion) and Trumaine McBride (groin), who were limited.
Tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee) and tight end Jerome Cunningham (knee) are probable.
- Two of Coughlin's former players, Chris Snee and Osi Umenyiora, will enter the Giants' Ring of Honor Sunday night, along with former athletic trainer John Johnson and Jack Lummus, who played for the Giants in 1941 and was killed in World War II.
"I'm as thrilled as can be for both of them," Coughlin said. "And again, our staff is very excited for these two guys and very proud of having had an opportunity to work with such outstanding men, number one, and football players, each in their own way. When you think of Chris Snee, you think of a powerful, very serious, very devoted offensive guard who could do anything. He could pull, he could pass block, he could run block, he could do it all. And then when you think of Osi, you think of a guy who really - I keep thinking of that picture over and over again. I can't help it, it's 92, 91 and 72 (Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Umenyiora) and there's Tom Brady laying on the ground. I can't help but think of that. Osi was an outstanding young man to coach who could collect his thoughts and tell you exactly what he was thinking. Probably, along with Snee, studied the opponent better than anybody that we've seen. Guys that would be in the rooms by themselves learning more about the people they were going to play against. I'm excited for those guys. It's a great honor, it's a very nice honor. When you look up there and see the names that are up there, it's a tremendous honor."