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Julian Love takes over Xavier McKinney's play-calling duties


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Xavier McKinney and Julian Love have been virtually inseparable on the football field since the Giants began their offseason workouts in April.

The team's starting safeties, they sit next to each other in meetings, share play-calling duties in practice and have lined up in tandem for all but 43 of the Giants' 506 defensive snaps this season (Love missed most of the Oct. 2 victory against Chicago with a concussion).

But McKinney is sidelined for at least a month with a "couple" of broken fingers suffered in an accident in Cabo San Lucas last Wednesday (Nov. 2), when the Giants were on their bye. His absence gave Love a strange feeling during the team's walkthrough on Monday and practice on Tuesday..

"Every practice, we've been out there," Love said. "Every game, we've been out there. To line up in the warmup line and not have him next to me, I think that's when it first hit me. It's weird. We have the same conversations each day, it seems like. It's been a routine for months, and it's definitely different. I'd be kidding myself if I said that it's not different."

It is for the entire defense, which will be without McKinney for the first time since Week 10 of the 2020 season when the 6-2 Giants host the Houston Texans on Sunday. McKinney has not missed a snap since Week 3 of the 2021 season and has participated in 1,432 consecutive plays, reportedly the longest active streak by an NFL defender. But he is now on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list and must miss at least four games.

"I got into a Can-Am accident," said McKinney, who described the vehicle as a "bigger version" of an ATV. "Kind of just flipped over, not flipped over but tilted over, fell on my hand. That's basically what happened.

"We were on a sightseeing tour. It was nothing that was reckless. This was just simply being able to see, being able to be out of the country, seeing out of the country, seeing what it looked like. It was just an unfortunate event that happened."

McKinney said he was examined in a hospital in Cabo and underwent surgery after returning to the metropolitan area. He spoke to the media in front of his locker with his left hand heavily wrapped and his arm in a sling.

"I've just got a broken finger," he said. "Like I said, it was unfortunate. Luckily, and I thank God that it wasn't anything worse but like I said, it wasn't anything that was reckless that was going on. Just kind of a freak accident."

"I feel bad for him," coach Brian Daboll said. "I feel bad for us. I know he's disappointed, but we can't do anything about that now. We'll get ready to play Houston."

Asked if he thinks McKinney will return this season, Daboll said, "We'll see."

"No timeline on it," McKinney said. "I'm just trying to take it day by day, do what everybody is asking me to do. That's what I'm here for. I'll be fine."

But it won't be easy to be a spectator while his teammates prepare and play. In addition to the game against Houston, McKinney will miss home games against Detroit and Washington and the Thanksgiving Day showdown against the Cowboys in Dallas.

"Obviously, it hurts," McKinney said. "These guys, we've put in the work. Countless amount of hours together. I know what I put into this game and I know how much we have collectively as a group put into what we've done to build where we're at now. It hurts a lot for me. Mental rollercoaster for me, but I'm going to continue to be here for my team, I'm going to continue to lead how I do, and just make sure that I can be able to help and provide to win these games whether I'm playing or not."

Daboll had a typically succinct answer when asked what the Giants will do at safety in McKinney's absence.

"Get everybody else ready to go," he said.

That includes giving Love the play-calling duties in the defensive huddle and more playing time for rookie Dane Belton and second-year man Jason Pinnock.

"We have guys that can play, and we feel confident in," Daboll said.

Belton, a fourth-round draft choice this year from Iowa, missed the season-opening victory in Tennessee because of a broken collarbone he suffered in training camp. When he debuted the following week against Carolina, he recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, his very first NFL play.

He also made the first of his two starts against the Panthers, and in seven games, he has 18 tackles (14 solo) on defense and one stop on special teams. Belton said he is "definitely" looking forward to expanding his role in the coming weeks.

"Anytime I can play, I want to take full advantage of it," he said. "It's unfortunate what happened, but teams always say, 'Next man up.' So, I'm just going to want to do my job. Anything coach asks me to do, I'll do it and try to give the team a win."

That will be more challenging for all the Giants without McKinney, who is fourth on the team with 37 tackles (24 solo) and third with four passes defensed.

"I take full responsibility," McKinney said. "I'm an accountable person, so for me, I was just more upset about knowing that I wasn't going to be able to be here for my team. But as far as that goes, I'm still going to be able to help as much as I can. I'm going to be in meetings, I'm going to be out there at practice, and helping as much as I can so we can keep this thing rolling."

*Daboll said defensive lineman Nick Williams is out for the season. Williams suffered a biceps injury in Seattle on Oct. 30.

*Daboll said cornerback Aaron Robinson's return this season is "doubtful." Robinson injured his knee on Oct. 2 against the Bears.

*Wide receiver Richie James is limited in practice because of the concussion he suffered against the Seahawks. James lost two fumbles while returning punts in Seattle. Is Daboll contemplating a change at that spot?

"I'm not going to get into who we're playing, who we're not playing," he said. "I'd say that we have a lot of people competing for that spot. And we'll see where it goes."

In addition to James, the group of candidates includes Darnay Holmes, Darius Slayton, Wan'Dale Robinson and Kalil Pimpleton, who is on the practice squad.

*Guard Shane Lemieux went through a full-scale practice for the first time today after he was designated to return yesterday. Lemieux spent the season's first eight games on injured reserve with a toe injury. The Giants have three weeks to activate Lemieux or keep him on I.R. for the remainder of the season.

*Tight end Daniel Bellinger (eye) and right tackle Evan Neal (knee) are the only two players on the active roster who did not practice today.

*Wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who missed the last four games with a knee injury, practiced on a limited basis.

"He should be ready to go," Daboll said.