EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants’ organized team activity today was emotive and entertaining.
Because no pads are worn in these voluntary practices, the highlights frequently come from the matchups between wide receivers and cornerbacks. And in perhaps the two most striking plays from this morning, corners Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple got the best of wideouts Cody Latimer and Sterling Shepard, respectively. Jenkins blanketed Latimer and though his interception didn’t count because he was out of bounds, Jenkins was so pleased he punted the ball in celebration. In their confrontation on the other side of the end zone, Apple knocked away a pass that was intended for Shepard.
“That was a good play,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Then we saw Jackrabbit make a nice interception in the back of the end zone. The ball was thrown well, everyone was in a good position and he made a nice play on it. That’s a good thing.”
Eli Manning threw both passes.
“It definitely gets competitive out there, especially when you are covering someone that likes to talk a lot like Shep,” Apple said. “He is going to let you know if he got you on a play or he feels like he could have caught the ball. It is definitely some friendly competition.”
“We are all competitors, huge competitors,” Shepard said. “If someone gets you, you are going to talk a little mess. We all do. It is all out of love at the end of the day. When we get in the locker room, it is all love.”
Apple and Shepard – the Giants’ top two selections in the 2016 NFL Draft – have gone head-to-head throughout the OTAs. On the play this morning, Shepard thought he might have had a step on his teammate/rival, but Apple closed quickly and got his hand on the ball.
“It could have gone either way,” Shepard said. “I am not going to jump over him and do all of that in practice. Not right now, not this early on. In a game situation, I will definitely attack the ball. He did a good job. He played it pretty good. The ball hung up there so he had time to knock it down. He did a good job.”
“It is just good just to get the techniques down,” Apple said. “That is the main point of OTAs. Just mainly the coverages and communications. That stuff is going to come. I know I am able to make those plays. Being in position and getting the reps right now are going to prepare me to be better during the season.”
Latimer joined the Giants in March after playing four seasons for the Denver Broncos. He believes facing an outstanding defensive back like Jenkins every day in practice is accelerating his development.
“He is one of the top corners, I believe, in the league,” Latimer said. “Having that competition every day is good for me. I am a tall, shifty guy and he is very fast. He can match my speed, is quick and gets in and out of breaks. It is great competition for me.”
In the red zone drill near the end of practice, Manning tried to hit Latimer in the back corner of the end zone. But Jenkins didn’t let the ball get anywhere near the target.
For Jenkins, who spent the last five weeks of the 2017 season on injured reserve after undergoing ankle surgery, it was another step forward in his comeback.
“It is good to show them what I got coming back from injury,” Jenkins said. “It is just competing. I love to compete, anyway.”
The verbal exchanges between receivers and cornerbacks before and after plays don’t normally include trash-talking, but educating. Players on both sides want to glean as much information as possible from the teammates they’re matched up against.
“Guys like Cody, they always ask questions,” Jenkins said. “I just try and give them the best information I can give them. For our running routes, if you are going vertical, how you should step to me. Whether or not I know if you are going vertical by stacking me or not stacking me. Things like that and different releases off the line of scrimmage.”
“He is a vet, and they read things a lot of people don’t,” Latimer said. “What did you see on this route? How could I have run this? All kinds of things. Each individual route, what did you see and how could I have done things. There is a lot of learning and talking back and forth, which I love. It shows that we are teammates and that we are both trying to get out there this year. I have been open to all communication. Every day we talk and he has given me feedback. It is great.”
This is the third year that Apple and Shepard have exchanged information.
“I always ask him, ‘What did I do to tip that route off?’” Shepard said. “‘What made you jump it that way?’ Vice versa, he asks me stuff as well.”
“We try and get each other ready,” Apple said. “Fine tune each other for the season.”
From the cornerbacks’ standpoint, the only negative in the exchanges today was Jenkins’ feeble punt, which pretty much sailed straight up in the air.
“That,” Jenkins conceded, “is the only thing I can’t do.”