Last year, there was really not much more than one. Now, there could be three. Just like that, the Giants have a line forming to handle punt return duties.
Safety Jabrill Peppers had 15 punt returns last season and averaged 12.5 yards. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, signed as a free agent, had 53 career punt returns for the Titans and averaged 8.8 yards. Receiver Kadarius Toney, the Giants’ first-round draft pick, had 11 punt returns last season at Florida, averaged 12.6 yards and took one back for a touchdown.
Peppers, who carries a full load on defense and usually does not come off the field all game, loves having the ball in his hands.
“You know, I’m willing to do whatever helps the team,’’ Peppers said Wednesday. “It’s definitely going to be competitive. We have a lot of capable guys that can track the ball, have good hands and make guys miss in space. It’s definitely going to be interesting to see whoever comes out on top.’’
Toney could be that player. He dropped a punt during a special teams period during minicamp practice, yelled at himself and slapped his hands together in disgust. He caught the next one that sailed his way.
“He is what he is; he’s electric,’’ special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. “He can do some things. But right now he just has to get in here with all the rest of the rookies and get acclimated to what we do and how we do it.You saw his tape in college. You know his ability and what he can do with the ball in his hands, but right now he just needs to get in here and gain the trust of his teammates. That job as a punt returner in this league, that’s a huge job and huge responsibility. That’s the main focus right now.’’
It is not difficult to come to the conclusion McGaughey is intrigued with Toney.
“He has some skills, he definitely does,’’ McGaughey said. “He’s a good young player that needs to understand what it takes to be a pro, and you know, just learning how to operate as a pro. But he definitely does have extreme talent. We’ve all seen that.’’
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is not nearly the man he was last season. He has shed serious pounds in Year 2 with the Giants and his body and face are noticeably trimmer.
“That was my heaviest at the end of last year in my whole life, so I had to look in the mirror and get that thing fixed,’’ Graham said. “Just trying to show some discipline for a change outside of the office. Show some discipline sitting at a table a little bit. Be a good example for the players.’’
During the hiring cycle after the 2020 season, Graham, 42, had an opportunity to interview for the Jets head coaching vacancy that was filled by Robert Saleh, but Graham opted not to meet with the Jets. It was an unusual move, as coordinators are often all about upward mobility.
“Any time opportunities present themselves, you’re excited,’’ Graham said. “It has a lot less to do with me and more the guys, the players here, we played decent defense as the year went on, a lot of room to grow. To me, the Giants, this is my dream job to be here as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants. So I’m just happy to be here. I don’t know, it’s nothing against them or anything. I’m just happy to be a New York Giant.’’
With a relaxation of which positions can wear single-digit jerseys, Peppers was hoping to finally get to don No. 5, his number at Michigan and in high school in New Jersey at Paramus Catholic and Don Bosco Prep. One problem: Graham Gano, the veteran kicker, has No. 5. Peppers has offered to pay up to get the number but Gano thus far has not accepted any offer.
“I tried but he’s not budging,’’ Peppers said. “You know, I’m thinking about hanging it up. I still probably got a month to try to see what I can do, try to swing him my way. But at the moment, it’s not looking too good.’’