EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Thanks largely to Nike sneakers and the corporation's advertising campaign, cross-training became popular in the nation's athletic and exercise lexicon.
Joe Judge and the Giants are expanding its use in the NFL.
Since becoming the team's head coach, Judge has stressed that he wants versatile players who can perform and contribute outside of their customary job descriptions. He beat that drum again today when he discussed the Giants' secondary on a Zoom call. Moments later, in their own meeting with reporters, it became apparent the players are adhering to the script.
Asked whether safety Jabrill Peppers could play cornerback, Judge said, "in terms of Jabrill with the cornerback role, we're going to cross-train all of our DBs."
When Peppers fielded a variation of the same question, he said, "We've all been cross-training and can do multiple things."
That multiplicity could prove to be vital in a secondary with unknowns as the Giants begin full-scale practices. Peppers, who started the first 11 games at strong safety in 2019 before a back injury ended his season, and cornerback James Bradberry, a free agent acquisition, will play the vast majority of the snaps.
But the identity of the other two starters might not be revealed until opening night. And because they might be rookies such as safety Xavier McKinney and cornerback Darnay Holmes, Peppers and Bradberry might play more than one role. And that's fine with them.
"Right now, I'm just playing corner," Bradberry said. "But for the most part, we're still learning the defense, so we'll see down the road.
"I like to do whatever the game plan is. I'm cool with anything. I'm very flexible. When I was in college, I was very flexible. Anything that coach asks me to do, I'm willing to do it. I'm down with anything, honestly."
"I will play wherever the team needs me to play," Peppers said. "…Whatever the scheme is, whatever they see fit, that's what it's going to be. … Like I said, we've all been training at multiple things."
The exuberant Peppers might well be the player who best personifies the Giants' cross-training philosophy.
"I see energy (in Peppers)," Judge said. "You hear him before you see him. You know when he's in the room. He's a lively guy, he brings a lot of energy to the team, a lot of energy to the locker room. You can tell he's a football guy. He loves ball. He flies around. You can tell if guys are on the field, whether it's conditioning, whether it's the limited version of practice we had this morning, you can tell football guys. He's definitely a ball guy.
"In terms of his spot on the defense, I'm not trying to be evasive on this, but it's going to be whatever we need him to do right there. With his skill set, he's going to factor into a lot of sub-packages. Traditionally, you've seen him play a lot in the box in different schemes and roles. He has that body type that still fits that. But he's going to have to be able to play the deep part of the field as well as the box for us."
The two veterans anchor what is otherwise a largely unproven secondary. Peppers is just 24 and Bradberry turned 27 last week, but their experience as four and five-year veterans, respectively, make them natural candidates to be the unit leaders.
"I'm not really thinking about that," Peppers said. "I'm just worried about coming in here every day making sure we get better as a whole. No repeat mistakes, and just keep taking it step by step. We're still early in this thing. We are going to keep coming in here with an attitude to want to get better, to want to learn and be coachable. If we can do that and sustain it, good things will definitely happen."
With 61 games played, including one in the postseason, Bradberry is easily the Giants' most experienced defensive back (Nate Ebner is a nine-year veteran but he plays primarily on special teams). But he minimized the impact that might have on the other players.
"It's been pretty cool but, of course, I'm on a new team, so I'm learning every day too with them," Bradberry said. "I try to teach them things that might come up on film when we're watching film that I might know, that might help them. But for the most part, I'm learning as well."
Aside from his skill covering opposing receivers, Bradberry's most significant contribution might be fostering a sense of camaraderie among the defensive backs.
"Just having chemistry within the whole secondary is important, especially with the safeties and the nickels and corners across the board," Bradberry said. "It's a brotherhood back there, and that's how you have to really look at it, especially in the meeting rooms when we're talking and we're trying to make communication calls and stuff like that."
"I'm all about camaraderie, getting to know someone," Peppers said. "When you get to know people deeper than just on a football level, it makes that bond much stronger and you want to play harder for those guys."
That's another kind of cross-training that should help the Giants.