EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Jon Beason began his NFL career as an ironman. He started every game in each of his first four NFL seasons, 64 in all, for the Carolina Panthers.
Beason started the 65th game, on Sept. 11, 2011. But he tore his Achilles tendon that afternoon and has since been on the field far more rarely than he was earlier. In the last five seasons, he has played in just 24 games, starting 22. In 2014, Beason was right on his average for the last half-decade, playing four games (all starts) for the Giants.
But this year, Beason is confident he will return to the levels of durability and production he enjoyed early in his career. He is healthy, excited, and there's no place he prefer to be than on the field in training camp with his teammates.
"This is the first year I've come in and not been injured or going through the process of going through rehab," Beason said today. "I feel strong, I just need more reps, I need more contact. New system, obviously, with Coach Spags (Steve Spagnuolo, the team's new defensive coordinator), so the more reps I get, the more time in it is going to help me."
Beason said his relative inactivity the last few seasons has the side benefit of reducing the wear and tear on his body.
"That's the one side that no one really looks at," he said "The years that I was on I.R., I don't have those years of pounding throughout the season. I should be fresher and be considered younger than I really am."
Beason's physical condition and mental outlook are both vastly improved over what they were a year ago. On June 12, 2014, he suffered a foot/toe injury in an organized team activity. He missed all of training camp and the preseason, though he did start the first two regular-season games. But he played in just two more before undergoing season-ending surgery. Not coincidentally, the defense ranked 29th in the NFL (allowing 375.8 yards a game) and 30th vs. the run (135.1), and the team allowed at least 400 points in a season for just the fifth time in the franchise's 90-year history.
Significant improvement is expected this season, and not just because of the return of Spagnuolo (who coached two top 10 defenses here in 2007-08). The middle linebacker is healthy and doesn't back away from the opinion that if he stays that way the defense can be good, and if he's not, the unit might struggle.
"That's the best kind of pressure," Beason said. "You know, it's an opportunity to do something great when people put a lot on you. Obviously, I think I can do a lot. I think, when healthy, I think we're a better team, a better defense. The pressure of that, it pushes me, it drives me to do more."
But can he stay on the field? In 2011, he had the Achilles injury. The next year, left knee and right shoulder injuries limited him to four games. In 2013, he played in 15 games, including 12 for the Giants. But last season he was on the field for just a quarter of the season.
Call him injury-prone if you wish, it won't bother Beason.
"Football is injury prone," he said. "It's seriously out of your control. That's the most frustrating part about it. When people say that this happens to one guy more than not, there's been great players that never were - high school, college players that never were, due to injury. So, I'm blessed, I'm fortunate to have come this far, to have the time that I have, I enjoy it. Now, I just focus on being in the moment and enjoying the very next rep, because I know that's all that is guaranteed."
Beason is certainly not being overly cautious in trying to stay healthy. He has been on the field for every practice. Today, the Giants are in full pads for the first time, a circumstance Beason would prefer to see far more often, which happened when he entered the NFL as the Carolina Panthers' first-round draft choice in 2007.
"I miss that," Beason said. "With the new CBA, I understand taking care of guys' bodies. Everything has changed so much. But the two-a-days, pads every day, banging every day helps you. Think about the brand of football that you see during preseason. It's sloppy. The teams that get it figured out, hopefully they come out Week One looking good. Blocking and tackling is always at a premium when you're trying to take care of guys. So you take advantage of these full-padded days because you know that's the game. On Sunday, there's no tagging off. So, we need to work our craft.
"I'm just happy to get my feet back under me, be back out here working hard. Missed the heat, missed the battles. I'm happy for 9-on-7 (running drill), actually it's a blessing for 9-on-7 today. I just want to get out there and get my nose bloody a little bit, and get back in the swing of things."
Seriously, he won't be upset if his nose is bloodied – though he'd prefer to bloody someone else's nose. He is, after all, a linebacker with 811 career tackles.
"Sometimes that's the cost of doing business, Beason said. "They say, 'You look bad, but you should look at the other guy,' right? It's a huge respect factor.
"When you're doing something you feel like you were born to do, I tend to get excited about that. It's tough, but I like it that way."
So do the Giants, especially if Beason can stay on the field this season.
View the best images from the first four Training Camp practices