EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – New Giants defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is happy Jerome Henderson remained with the team as a holdover from the previous coaching staff.
"I think we've got the best secondary coach in the league," Martindale said today.
Henderson, a 16-year NFL coaching veteran, certainly has an opportunity to demonstrate that this year.
While the offensive line is often cited as the Giants' unit that has had the most extensive offseason overhaul, the defensive backfield is a close second. Safety Logan Ryan (March 17) and cornerback James Bradberry (May 9) were both released, removing a combined 31 starts, 154 tackles, 25 passes defensed and four interceptions from the 2021 team. They were also veteran leaders of the secondary.
That onus to compensate for their absence falls on all the defensive backs, but particularly Adoree' Jackson, who succeeds Bradberry as the team's No. 1 cornerback; second-year pro Aaron Robinson, who is moving from the slot to become the anticipated starter at left cornerback; and Xavier McKinney, the third-year safety who led the team with five interceptions last season and is being counted on to increase his production and improve his leadership.
The players and their coaches believe they are up to the task.
"It's me believing in myself and the confidence that I have is put in the work," said Jackson, who started 12 of the 13 games in which he played last season, his first with the Giants. "Confidence comes from mentally and physically being prepared so at the end of the day, no matter what the situation is, no matter what the task is, you go out there and you're confident in your prep and mentally being prepared what you're doing, the sky is the limit. At the end of the day, it's on you. So, you can be physically prepared, but if you're not mentally prepared for the task, it's not going to get done. The same thing vice versa. You can believe it but if you didn't put in the work physically and get all the reps in, then that won't happen."
View photos from the sixth OTA practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Henderson said Jackson can do more to help the new-look secondary than simply play well.
"The thing I've asked him to do is be that mentor to the young guys," Henderson said. "Be that guy who takes them under your wing and talk about your development and how you got here. Earning a second contract in this league is a big deal. And the second contract he got is a big deal. So, I'm asking him to take the young guys under his wing and help them do the same thing, help them have that career that they've earned that second contract like he did."
Robinson missed the first seven games of his rookie season after undergoing core muscle surgery. He returned to play in nine games and started two, primarily as the nickel corner.
"It sucked that we lost him so early last year," Henderson said. "As soon as he got here, he had that core injury and we lost him. We didn't have him for a long time. And when he came on at the end, we threw him in and got some reps. Then we moved him outside. I'm excited for him to settle into a spot, give himself a whole offseason to learn the spot, get quality reps, learn how to play the position. And I think he's done a good job."
Robinson frequently played on the outside at Central Florida and Jackson is certain he can succeed there in the NFL.
"What's crazy is, I got here, I watched his film and I saw him at UCF, and I was like, damn, this dude can press, he can play well," Jackson said. "And I saw where he went to Alabama prior, and I said that's why he's pretty good because you're really good if you're an Alabama DB. A-Rob is very talented. … I felt like A-Rob stayed the course when he was banged up and came in and played and played highly well and put that on his resumé now, so when a situation happens like this, it give him an opportunity to come and play. Felt like he did what he needed to do, continued to work hard, continued to stay himself and stay focused throughout the whole process."
"(I) like A-Rob," Martindale said. "I think he's been doing really well. And they are all competing. It's hard when you sit there and look at all the different corners right now because of how early it is. We haven't even had a practice in pads yet. They are not in their top training camp fall shape yet. But what I've seen, I really do like. I love that room."
One of the biggest personalities and most important players in it is McKinney, the Giants' second-round draft in 2020. Since missing the first 10 games of his career because of a fractured foot suffered in training camp, he has played in 23 consecutive contests, starting 20. Last year, in addition to his team-leading five picks, he was third with 93 tackles (59 solo) and second with 11 passes defensed.
He is looking to increase all those numbers this year while becoming a more vocal presence in the back of the defense.
"He's doing a great job and he's leading his butt off," Henderson said. "He wants that responsibility and he's working like he wants that responsibility. He's earning that responsibility daily, the way he works, the way he meets, the way he prepares, the way he's helping other guys. He's doing a great job. You hope he does take that next step to being a top, top flight safety in this league."
McKinney expects nothing less and has worked tirelessly this offseason to achieve his objectives.
"I just wanted to take it to the next level," McKinney said. "I think my biggest thing this off-season has been a lot of film study. I've just been diving in on film and just seeing different things that the offense does, whether the splits, how they run things when they are going to run things, situational stuff. That's really been my biggest thing.
"Every day I train, but I want to make sure that I overemphasize just staying in the playbook, staying, watching game film, watching practice film, watching myself, seeing what I can improve on. I think that was the biggest thing for me as far as really taking this thing to the next level. A lot of times, that's what separates the good guys from the great guys is the film study part of it – that's what I know, that's what I've seen, so just been focusing on that."
After his breakout sophomore season, what does McKinney consider his next step?
"Take it 10 times forward," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do. Trying to make sure whatever it is I need to do to help this team win games and help us play great defense, that's what I'm willing to do and that's what I'm going to do."
Which is exactly what the Giants need him to do.