EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Carter Coughlin played only four defensive snaps in the Giants' loss Monday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One of them he'll never forget.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Coughlin recorded the first tackle of his career – and it happened to be eight-yard sack of perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Tom Brady – who, at 43, is 20 years younger than the rookie linebacker.
"I didn't say anything to him after the sack," Coughlin said today. "The moment it happened, I was like, 'Wow, I can't believe that just happened.' It was kind of like a little blackout moment. I only got to think like that for three seconds and then it was back to 'we need to go win this game' and stuff like that. But I didn't say anything to him."
Coughlin couldn't grab the ball from Brady's hands or wrestle the helmet off his head. But he did find a way to preserve the memory of the first signature moment of his career.
"Keep my jersey and sign it," Coughlin said. "It's definitely a cool memory. Definitely something I'll remember forever."
Coughlin was the first of the Giants' four seventh-round draft choices this year, from the University of Minnesota. He is now one of several rookies who have played regularly or are working their way toward more prominent roles on the team.
The list includes first-round choice Andrew Thomas, the team's left tackle; third-rounder Matt Peart, who started one game at tackle and is seeing increasing playing time; defensive back Darnay Holmes, the fourth-round selection who has been the team's nickel corner since the season opener; fifth-round guard Shane Lemieux, who started next to Thomas vs. the Bucs; and late-round linebackers Cam Brown, TJ Brunson, Tae Crowder and Coughlin, who have all contributed on special teams and should see get more snaps on defense. Crowder scored the game-winning points against Washington on Oct. 18 on a 43-yard fumble return. The teams meet again Sunday in FedExField.
"It's really cool to see the way that our team has really brought along the rookies," Carter said. "I know that's not the place everywhere, but I know at least in the outside/inside linebacker room, all of the veteran guys have been incredibly helpful for me, for Cam, for the rest of the linebackers, and I know that's throughout the team. We have a really special culture here in that way that the older guys look out for the younger guys. As I've kind of gone back and forth between the inside and outside room, I've needed some extra help from guys like Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez and all those kinds of guys. They've really been there for me. They've been helping me out day by day.
"That's what you see when the young guys get on the field. We're ready, we're confident, we're prepared, and it's continuing to increase, which has been really, really cool. It's a fun energy when I'm out there and I'm looking across the line and I have my rookie brother Cam Brown across from me. It's really cool. Then seeing the way that guys on offense have been stepping up. It's a special team dynamic, I think."
Carter said the rookies are eager to contribute as much as they can and in any possible way.
"It starts off with you getting an opportunity and you need to make the most of it," he said. "For all of us, it started on special teams. We take pride in that, especially as a New York Giant, the way we execute on special teams, the way we work as a special teams unit. You make the most there, then the coaches trust you and kind of sugar you into a little defense and see how you do there and make the most of that. Then it continues to increase. That's kind of been all of our journey. Each of us has done it in different ways and had different opportunities where we've made the most of it, and that just builds trust. When you have young guys on the field, the biggest thing is do you trust them to do the right thing, to do their job? It's been cool to build trust with the coaching staff for me and the rest of the young guys."
Coughlin started 38 games at defensive end for the Golden Gophers but has moved seamlessly between outside and inside linebacker in his first NFL season.
"The way I look at it is it's a pretty unbelievable opportunity for me to really hone in on what is the entire defense doing," he said. "It's a totally different feel playing outside linebacker compared to inside linebacker. But me being able to do both, I'm really understanding our defense and understanding where the inside linebackers are fitting because I know where I am as an outside linebacker, and things like that. I'd say yeah, at the beginning it was more difficult. But I'm really thankful that I've gotten to do that."
Tom Brady may not be, but the Giants certainly are.
*Late yesterday, the Giants were awarded wide receiver Dante Pettis off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers. He is expected to formally join the roster early next week after completing the Covid-19 protocols.
"I think there were a lot of guys who had exposure to him from when he came out from college," coach Joe Judge said. "He has a level of talent we'd like to see him in the building and give him a chance to get out there and work. But we're always looking at the waiver all the time and trying to see if there's any way we can add someone to our roster we think can help. He won't be available for a few days until he's through the protocol to get into our program. It gives him a little bit of a window of time to travel and kind of get acclimated. It gives us a little bit of a window of time with the current roster right here. But we have a spot open right now. We're only at 52 until he officially counts."
Pettis had 38 receptions in 28 games with the 49ers. But his most intriguing early role could be as a return specialist. At the University of Washington, he set an NCAA record with nine career punt returns for touchdowns. Pettis averaged 14.2 yards on 90 returns.
"Dante Pettis was one of the best punt returners in the history of college football," special teams coach Thomas McGaughey said. "Obviously, he's had some success in the past. Hopefully, once he gets here, we'll find out what his skill set is, what he can do. Find his strengths and try to play to that."
*Dion Lewis returned three kickoffs for 98 yards, including a Giants season-long 44-yarder, vs. Tampa Bay. He had just two returns in the first seven games.
"Dion has done it in the past," McGaughey said. "He's an experienced guy, he's scored touchdowns before in the past. I think it was a combination of our guys up front blocking better and just him understanding where to fit and where he needs to go. Dion is fearless, so he is going to hit it hard, straight, and fast. We got a good result, we got a couple good results."
*Defensive back Ryan Lewis (hamstring) was the only Giants player who did not participate in practice today.
Running back Devonta Freeman (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. He was inactive for the game against the Buccaneers. Also limited were wide receiver Sterling Shepard (shoulder/toe), linebackers Blake Martinez (hamstring) and Devante Downs (shoulder) and defensive back Logan Ryan (hip).
Wide receiver Golden Tate practiced fully after not participating yesterday.