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Notebook: Giants position coaches talk team depth


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On many days throughout training camp, three Giants assistant coaches speak to the media on Zoom calls. Position coaches are understandably asked most often about their front-line players – Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Leonard Williams, etc.

The threesome interviewed today were Sean Spencer (defensive line), Kevin Sherrer (inside linebackers) and Tyke Tolbert (wide receivers). And while they were questioned about some of their starters, they fielded several queries regarding backups and players whose names are seldom included in daily media reports.

Spencer, for example, was asked his thoughts about B.J. Hill, RJ McIntosh, Austin Johnson and Chris Slayton.

"I like what I see from all those guys throughout camp," Spencer said. "Everyone is working hard. We know it's tremendous competition in that room. One of the things that I stressed in the meeting today is let's not lose sight of that. We do things where sometimes we split the field up, and I don't want those guys to ever think that I'm not watching. I want them to have tremendous competition within each other, day in and day out. They can't take their foot off the gas ever."

Johnson, who joined the team as a free agent on March 30, is entering his fifth NFL season and is the unit's second-most experienced player after Williams. He played 63 regular-season and postseason games in four seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Spencer was Johnson's position coach for two seasons at Penn State.

"I have a young room, a guy four years in the league is a vet now," Spencer said. "He understands the game, he's very, very knowledgeable. He plays with really good pad level and his experience in the NFL has helped him. I think Tennessee and those guys did a great job with him in terms of him understanding the things schematically what the offense is trying to do. He plays with really good leverage and it's something that he did in college. Obviously, I was fortunate enough to coach him in college. He hasn't really lost that. It's even gotten better."

The first question to Sherrer was about Devante Downs, who has played 20 games for the Giants and Minnesota Vikings and has yet to record a defensive tackle. But Downs has good size (6-3 and 242 pounds) and speed. He joined the Giants' practice squad last Oct. 1, was elevated to the active roster three weeks later and played exclusively on special teams in seven games.

"I know he came in later in the season last year," said Sherrer, who was then coaching at the University of Tennessee. "It's a perfect example of kind of wiping the slate clean, giving the guy an opportunity with everyone on a level playing field. He's done well for us."

How has Downs specifically caught Sherrer's eye?

"I think a little bit probably of some confidence, familiarity with the area, the staff a little bit, the time we've been around each other, most of it through Zoom," Sherrer said. "He's a bigger athlete. He's one of the bigger guys in the room. He's in the 240 (pound) range. Most of the guys are a little bit lighter than that. … With him, I see a lot of confidence that I didn't necessarily see on film last year given only being around him in person for just a few weeks. I've seen his confidence really grow."

At wide receiver, the Giants have a top threesome of Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Darius Slayton plus young veteran Corey Coleman, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Tolbert also has an intriguing group of youngsters, including third-year pro C.J. Board; Alex Bachman, who spent the final two months of the 2019 season on the Giants' practice squad; rookie free agents Tony Brown, Derrick Dillon, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack; plus David Sills, who joined the Giants last December and was inactive for the final two games. Sills went undrafted after catching 132 passes and scoring 35 touchdowns in 33 games at West Virginia University.

He has continued to impress in the Giants' training camp.

"David Sills has done a really good job," Tolbert said. "He's a really smart guy, he's working hard. He'll go in there and play all of the positions. I told you guys the other day, he's a rep stealer. He has his reps, he's going to go in and run his reps, then he'll steal some other reps. If he sees guys running down the field, he'll jump in there and say 'I got them, I got them.' I like that about him. He jumps in there, doesn't matter what position it is. He goes in there and plays and executes his assignments."

Board entered the NFL as a rookie free agent in 2017 and played in his first four regular-season games for Jacksonville last season. He caught two passes for 31 yards.

"I think the thing with C.J. is immediately his feet," Tolbert said. "He has speed. He really has speed off the ball, he's really fast, sudden out of his breaks. He has a little bit of experience in the league, too."

Tolbert, who is beginning his third season in his present position, coached Bachman last season.

"A lot like Sills, the fact that he knows all of the positions, he knows them well so he can plug in anywhere," Tolbert said of Bachman. "(It is) unique to have guys like that that. He's very knowledgeable, he's adjusted well to the competition we're going against. We're going to have to see him more going against really good on good. What I mean by that is really going against the one's and going against man coverage and everything to see how much improvement he can make with that. But he's been working his butt off and done a really good job. The more he goes out there and makes plays, the more opportunity he'll get."

Dillion (LSU),Victor and Mack (both Ohio State) played at the very highest level of college football. Mack played in 45 games with 28 starts for the Buckeyes and recorded 79 catches for 1,050 yards and six touchdowns.

"The thing with Austin Mack is his knowledge," Tolbert said. "That's for all those rookies. Those guys came in the spring and really learned the offense. Austin Mack's a super smart guy. He can play any position. He's a tough guy, he's a physical guy, he's very dependable. That's the thing that stands out with him to me."


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