Every game is an audition in the NFL.
So when it came time for free agency this offseason, J.T. Thomas landed the role of Giants linebacker.
The former Jaguar showcased his talents last year in a Week 13 victory over Big Blue, recording a career-high 12 tackles and recovering a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown at EverBank Field. His high point came at the Giants' lowest, the loss marking their seventh in a row at the time. And Tom Coughlin didn't forget it.
"Thomas played very well against us," his new head coach said in the wake of the signing. "Quite frankly, there is no better info as you get ready looking into free agency than people that have done well against you."
Consequently, the Giants brought Thomas over to bolster their cast of linebackers and a defense that ranked in the bottom five in 2014. And with the return of Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, Thomas isn't the only one of his teammates picking up a new scheme. The returning players are also learning on the fly while looking to improve the unit.
"I've been able to pick up pretty quickly, and a lot of the other guys have as well, too," Thomas told Giants.com. "We all kind of started off on the same plane. Coach Spags and [linebackers coach Jim Herrmann] have done a really, really great job of making things simple for us. Guys are picking it up quickly."
Throughout the spring in organized team activities [OTAs] and minicamp, a common theme emerged about the identity of the new defense.
"Aggressive," Thomas said, echoing sentiments shared by his teammates and coaches.
"We're going to have a lot of fun this year. And coach Spags is allowing us to be able to use all of our athletic ability to our fullest potential and to be able to be a fast defense, to be able to impose our will on offenses. It's going to be a really cool thing this year."
Illustrated by the hiring of Spagnuolo, the Giants reached into the past to better their future.
Coaches have been preaching the rich defensive tradition built over the franchise's 90 seasons, including showing films of iconic games to their current players. During that research, Thomas discovered his game most resembles that of the great Carl Banks, a New York Giants Ring of Honor member and current analyst for the Giants' broadcast network.
"Carl Banks is a guy who flies around and really gets to the ball. Just watching all of the guys, [Hall of Fame linebacker] Sam Huff just redefined the middle linebacker position, a West Virginia guy," said Thomas, a former Mountaineer. "So it's cool to see all the greats who played the linebacker positions. And even to have [special assistant and former All-Pro linebacker] Jessie [Armstead] in the building still, he's a great linebacker, has great knowledge of the game. He doesn't mind sitting down and just chatting with us about the game, and that's really, really cool. If we can continue to have guys understand how much knowledge is just around us in this building, from the coaches to the past players, we could be a really great defense."