Xavier McKinney couldn't find his position room on Monday because it was right where it's supposed to be.
For his first two seasons, the Quest Diagnostics Training Center (like every facility across the sports landscape) was transformed to meet COVID protocols. Meetings were held in the fieldhouse to allow more space, personnel was divided into different tiers, and everyone's movement was tracked. It will not be the not the case for his third season, which unofficially begins this week with the start of the Giants' voluntary off-season workout program.
"Man, it's different, but I love the energy," McKinney said. "I feel like it's a whole new energy, a whole different energy. It's really up right now and I'm sure it will continue to be that way, but I love it. Obviously, I haven't gotten to see a lot of stuff. Like I didn't even know where the position rooms were. So that was new for me, but I like being back how it should have been and being back to normal."
Last month, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed to suspend their joint COVID-19 protocols as long as clubs remain in compliance with state and local law. It came after two unprecedented years in and out of the sports world as McKinney's introduction to the NFL was unlike any rookie class before him.
On top of that, a foot injury caused him to miss the first 10 games of his rookie season. But he grabbed a decisive interception in the season finale against the rival Cowboys, setting the stage for a breakout sophomore campaign. In 2021, McKinney was the only defensive back in the NFL with at least 90 tackles (93), 10 passes defensed (10) and five interceptions (five).
Now, he looks to go to the next level in Don "Wink" Martindale's defense.
"I think I'm really excited for it," McKinney said. "I think we all are as a defense, just coming into it knowing it's going to be something new, knowing that it's an aggressive play style. We'll all be prepared, and we'll be ready for the challenge, but I think it'll be really fun being in this new defense."
McKinney added, "I think I've done a lot of good things very well. I think I've figured out a lot of things. Obviously, I still have a lot of improvement to continue to grow. But as far as laying a foundation wise, I think I've done that. I think I've learned a lot. I've seen a lot of different things throughout these two years that I've been here. Now I think it's time to kind of step it up a notch and go a little bit further with it and just keep building on from what I've already built."
What won't be new is McKinney stepping up as a team leader.
The former captain at the University of Alabama will have even more on his plate this season following the departure of fellow safety Logan Ryan, who was released and signed with the Buccaneers. Meanwhile, veteran cornerback James Bradberry's name has surfaced in trade rumors is cornerback James Bradberry.
"From day one I've been a leader, so nothing changes," McKinney said. "It doesn't matter who's here, it doesn't matter who's gone, I've been the same. I'll just continue to improve and get better. I pride myself on consistency and being able to improve myself, my game, and how I lead each and every day. That's the steps that I'm going to take forward with it. Like I've said, I've been a leader for a very long time, so this is nothing new to me. I don't see it as something that's bigger than what it was before because it's just who I am. There's no added pressure or anything like that. It's who I am and it's what I do. "
View photos from the voluntary offseason workout program at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.