Of the many position battles at Giants training camp, the cornerbacks competition may be the most intriguing to watch this season.
Giants GM Dave Gettleman brought in three rookies in the 2019 NFL Draft, all of which will be vying for a starting role opposite veteran incumbent Janoris Jenkins.
The biggest spotlight will shine on Georgia product Deandre Baker, who the Giants traded back into the first round to snag. There is also Notre Dame’s Julian Love — arguably one of the top steals in the Draft — and Washburn’s Corey Ballentine, who will certainly be a fan favorite to make the team after the unfortunate events that saw his best friend shot and killed, while he was left in the hospital as well.
But there is one cornerback that many Giants fans forget — one that is itching to make his mark in Big Blue next season.
Sam Beal, the Giants supplemental round draft pick of 2018, was out in full force during the Giants’ offseason workouts. And it was a refreshing sight to see considering the Western Michigan product basically had a redshirt season, as a reoccurring shoulder injury that required surgery left him on the sideline for his entire rookie year.
In turn, Beal’s absence has left many wondering: What exactly does he bring to the table for the Giants? Well, his former defensive coordinator at Western Michigan University, Lou Esposito, knows a thing or two about how Beal can contribute to a defense.
“I think the biggest thing is when we first got here [it] was his athleticism,” Esposito told SNY about when he first watched Beal on his practice field. “Being so long and so big. Normally you see these long, rangy guys and they’re not fast. Sam was a phenomenal athlete and he was able to do all the things you wanted to do. He could cover, he could run with their best receivers, he can make tackles, and we knew we had something special when we got here.”
In three seasons at WMU, Esposito didn’t mind leaving Beal on his own island on the outside. He thrived in 1-on-1 matchups, and his junior senior was his best display of that. He recorded two interceptions and 10 passes defended over 10 games to go along with 22 tackles and one forced fumble.
“Sometimes kids from our level before anybody really knows them, they’re like ‘Oh, Western Michigan,’ or ‘Oh, he’s not a Power Five guy,'” Esposito explained. “If you look at all the Power Five teams Sam Beal played against, he showed up huge in all those games ’cause he’s such a competitor
One quality that Esposito harped on for Beal was that competitive nature, and it showed on and off the field. It was evident when the New York media learned that Beal stayed locked in to the Giants’ matchups each week in 2018, even though he was stuck rehabbing. He would make scouting reports for the rest of his teammates in the cornerbacks room, something that impressed veterans like Jenkins and safety Michael Thomas.
Beal also didn’t go home to Michigan after learning his rookie season was done. Esposito, who saw Beal at WMU’s pro day, said his former corner wanted to be in East Rutherford with the Giants.
“It’s not a shock that he was making scouting reports and trying to stay involved because he’s a great kid, and when it comes to football, he is a super competitor,” Esposito said.
That time creating scouting reports and seeing defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s defense from an X’s and O’s standpoint for a full season gives Beal an advantage over the rookies. Esposito noted Beal being a quick study, and when he knew the defense from front to back, his natural athleticism took over.
He envisions the same with the Giants.
“If he knows the defense like the back of his hand, his athletic abilities and his competitiveness will get him on the field,” Esposito said. “The kid just wants to play. He loves football.
“He just wants to be great. If being great is being in the weight room two extra hours, that’s what he’s going to do. If being great on the football field is spending more time in the film room, that’s what he’s going to do.”
Greatness is what many expected from Beal coming out of college, with scouts and experts going as far as naming him the best supplemental draft prospect since Josh Gordon. But, unlike Gordon, Beal never had any red flags in his resume. He fell behind on academic credits, and the NCAA could have taken his eligibility away if they saw fit in his senior season.
Gettleman took a shot at Beal, and felt confident saying “we feel like we’re getting our third-round pick now.”
Beal has shown signs that he could be a big steal during his first offseason workouts with the Giants. Take a look at this play right here, where he sets up new safety Jabrill Peppers with a pick-six thanks to a well-timed tipped pass…
– New York Giants (@Giants) May 20, 2019
The Giants would love to see these types of plays in real games, and those will come as Beal battles during the preseason for that starting role. He has taken the right steps off the field, but it will come down to the right plays on the field to solidify a significant role on the defense this season.
If he can do that, Esposito has high hopes Beal will go from unknown draftee to household name in no time.
“If he can stay healthy, the sky’s the limit. Because he has the trifecta: he’s got the size, the speed, and the competitiveness. If you get those three things, it’s really, really hard to simulate that.”