That Nikita Whitlock is one tough hombre.
A 5-foot-10, 250-pound nose guard at Wake Forest, Whitlock thought his defensive lineman days were numbered after he transitioned to fullback at the NFL level due to his small frame, relatively speaking. But that is precisely what the Giants are using to their advantage right now as Whitlock is proving to be an effective player in all three phases of the game, a rare thing in this modern day age of specialization.
In 20 years as an NFL head coach, Tom Coughlin has never had a player able to do all three.
"No, not at this level," Coughlin said.
A bowling ball of a player is the last thing offensive linemen want to see spinning toward their quarterback late in the fourth quarter. Just ask the Bills. Last week, Whitlock came in at defensive tackle and recorded his first career sack when he took down Tyrod Taylor for a 14-yard loss on Buffalo's final drive.
"Well, he came from that defensive line temperament," Coughlin said. "He got into the league, primarily for us—for me anyway, somebody may argue, as a special teamer. And then as a fullback, he grew and learned and he was physical and that type of thing. He's got all those aspects to fall back on. We started to use him in the capacity you're referring to as a pass rusher, basically. His quickness has been his forte."
After bouncing between the Bengals and Cowboys as an undrafted rookie in 2014, Whitlock landed on the Giants' practice squad late last season. He then beat out veteran Henry Hynoski this summer for the fullback position. And just two days before the 53-man roster was set, Whitlock showed his dual-ability and recovered a fumble after a sack by defensive end Damontre Moore. The play sealed the victory for the Giants over New England in the preseason finale.
So late in games, keep your eye out for No. 49. And remember that sometimes less is more.
"Pick your spots," Coughlin said. "You're talking about a guy, he's a tough hombre, but he's not very big."
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo added: "He's beautiful, isn't he? I'll tell you what, when he goes in there, it's a whole different challenge for an offensive lineman really. Hopefully, it will be still a challenge."
The dual-threat fullback was just one of the many topics buzzing around Thursday at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Here are three things you need to know from the day:
1. LINEBACKERS KENNARD, CASILLAS UNABLE TO PRACTICE
Linebackers Devon Kennard (hamstring) and Jonathan Casillas (calf) were among the six Giants unable to practice on Thursday. Kennard suffered the injury late in the Buffalo game, while Casillas was a new addition to today's injury report.
"We feel comfortable, so whoever goes in there, we represent the New York Giants defense," middle linebacker and defensive captain Jon Beason said. "That's it. Next man up. Obviously, [Kennard] is going to be missed, he's been playing outstanding for us. He can do so much rushing the passer, being extremely consistent against the run and showing he can cover some guys last week with the interception. It's unfortunate and it's the nature of the business, so it's next man up mentality."
Wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf), cornerback Jayron Hosley (concussion), and defensive ends Robert Ayers Jr. (hamstring) and George Selvie (calf) were the others who did not participate in practice. Cornerback Trumaine McBride (groin) was limited.
2. CRUZ APPROACHES ONE YEAR OUT
Oct. 12, 2014 was the night Cruz suffered a season-ending knee injury during a primetime game in Philadelphia. That date is approaching, and the wide receiver has yet to play in a game since then, preseason or otherwise. However, a separate calf injury is now holding him back, and after undergoing a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection at the beginning of the month in the hope of accelerating the healing, there is still no defined timetable. The Giants are scheduled to play the Eagles on the road in Week 6, the same as last season.
"Feels like yesterday that it happened and I was going through the rehab process," Cruz said today of the knee injury. "It wasn't the funnest one, obviously. It's almost been a year and Philly is coming up around the corner as well. The irony is definitely setting in."
3. DONNELL NOW LEAD DOG IN TIGHT END ROOM
The Giants lost their best blocking tight end when they were forced to place veteran Daniel Fells on season-ending injured reserve this week. In a room that also includes Jerome Cunningham and Will Tye, Larry Donnell, who has 15 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown, is now the leader.
"Next man up," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. "We just the develop the guys in the room and keep working on getting those better, and working. Larry is the lead dog in there right now and he's got to stand up, he's got to lead those guys. [Tight ends coach] Kevin [M. Gilbride] does a great job with them, so whoever is in there, we're going to play with, we're going to develop them, and we trust them. They wouldn't be here if we didn't trust them."