EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Tommy DeVito has injected some New Jersey self-confidence into the Giants' offensive huddle, and his teammates love it.
DeVito, the team's rookie quarterback, will be the team's starter when the Giants face the Dallas Cowboys Sunday in AT&T Stadium. He will be the first undrafted rookie in franchise history to start at the game's most important position in a non-strike game, and the 10th rookie quarterback to start this season, the highest total since at least 1950 (excluding the 1987 season, which included numerous rookie strike-replacement quarterbacks).
Asked how DeVito made that unlikely leap from the practice squad to the starting lineup, coach Brian Daboll said, "Well, injuries. Start with that. The two guys that were ahead of him got injured and he was the third guy."
Yes, DeVito's promotion resulted from injuries that sidelined Daniel Jones (torn ACL) and Tyrod Taylor (rib cage). The circumstances of DeVito's ascension to the first team were unexpected, but that doesn't mean he must be quiet and deferential. The 25-year-old from nearby Cedar Grove and Don Bosco High School strongly believes he can do the job and that buoyancy has lifted his teammates.
"He's got that Jersey mentality to him," running back Saquon Barkley said. "He's got an edge to him. He plays with confidence. You could see that in his play, you could feel that in the huddle, and I'm excited for him.
"It's great. Having that confidence and swagger when you're a rookie definitely helps you playing. Playing at this level, the game is moving a little faster. It's going to slow down every single time he gets more reps, but he has that confidence, and you know the people around you have that confidence in you, too."
"He's got that – I don't know if it's happy-go-lucky, but he's got charisma and it shows in the huddle," offensive lineman Justin Pugh said. "It's in the way he plays, his dancing. He's having a good time. I'm excited for him.
"I've heard him say a few times, 'You know where I'm from.' He internalizes that. It's a good thing. This area has a lot to offer and he's representing it."
Rookie free agent quarterbacks usually receive relatively few opportunities to show what they can do in offseason workouts and training camp. Most are waived and are either signed to a practice squad or begin an itinerant journey from roster to roster.
But the Jersey native was comfortable quarterbacking his hometown team from his first snap. DeVito played well in the preseason and was signed to the practice squad after the final camp cutdown. He has entered each of the Giants' last two games in the second quarter following injuries to Taylor and Jones, respectively. In his first two regular-season appearances, DeVito has completed 17 of 27 passes for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and run for 29 yards on eight carries, including a 6-yard score.
"He approaches the position with confidence, and obviously when you're playing quarterback, you want to have that confidence, you want to have that demeanor when you walk into the huddle," offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said. "I think he has that. It's something that looks like he's had his whole life. He's a confident kid, not just on the field but also off the field, too. He brings an energy with him that kind of permeates throughout the room.
"You saw it really quickly, even when we had him in for that rookie camp in the meeting rooms interacting with him and then once you get on the field, there's a lot of learning. There's a lot of stuff and a lot of growing that goes with it, so it doesn't just come right away on the field, but I think as he got more comfortable within the system, got more comfortable with his specific job, I think you saw that growth there."
DeVito faces a tremendous challenge against a Dallas defense that shut out the Giants in the season opener, has allowed the third-fewest points-per-game in the NFL (18.5), and includes standout players like Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, DaRon Bland and Stephon Gilmore.
The Giants believe he's up to the task.
"Tommy's continued to grow every single day that he's been here from rookie camp," Kafka said. "Just learning the offense and understanding how to be a pro and doing all the little things, all the things that work into that. Whether it's studying, preparation, being in the huddle with the guys, being a leader and a teammate and then understanding what the NFL game is about and how much detail that goes into that. I think he's really homed in on that. Each week, you look at his notes and it's just getting better and better every single day.
"I think for him, just understand that it's an opportunity to take advantage of. It's obviously not something that happens all the time, but it's an opportunity, so he's got to go out there and take advantage of it."
"It's the NFL, man, everyone is really talented," Barkley said. "You're here for a reason and it's a great story for him, from Jersey. He's a Jersey kid and now he's gonna be a starting quarterback for the New York Giants. So, I'm really excited for him."
*Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made his first public comments regarding statements safety Xavier McKinney made following the Giants' loss last week in Las Vegas.
"I think that from a leadership standpoint, I don't think they've done a great job of letting the leaders lead, and listening to the leaders and the captains," McKinney said. "But obviously it sucks losing."
McKinney is one of the Giants' 10 captains. It is unclear to whom he was referring.
"I think it was a case where the kid is just frustrated from losing," Martindale said. "We spoke, we cleared it up. The example that he gave me of what he was talking about was an in-game adjustment … but I think that you grow from that. I just told him that's something that it hurts the locker room, it hurts the defensive room when you say something like that. You just have to understand that it was an emotional thing right after the game and you've just got to learn from it, so we're moving on."
*Four Giants players did not practice Thursday: tackle Evan Neal (ankle), cornerback Adoree' Jackson (concussion/neck), running back Deon Jackson (concussion) and guard Mark Glowinski (personal matter).
Four players were limited: tackle Andrew Thomas (hamstring), wide receiver Parris Campbell (hamstring), linebacker Azeez Ojulari (ankle) and running back Jashaun Corbin (hamstring).
The full practice participants on the injury report included two players who did not work yesterday, defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (rest day) and offensive lineman Sean Harlow (personal matter), as well as offensive lineman Justin Pugh (ankle), and safety Dane Belton (back).