Adrian Tracy, the New York Giants' sixth-round draft choice out of William & Mary, might be considered a project. He is coming from a small school, and changing positions from defensive end to outside linebacker.
Freelance writer Gail Bahr, who provides content to the NFL Players Association and a variety of other outlets, sat down with Tracy between training camp practices recently. She has graciously offered us her conversation with the 6-foot-2, 248-pound rookie. Here it is.
Q. Many people, and I include myself, have never seen a William & Mary game. Tell me a little about your game and how you view yourself.
A. Off the field I'm reserved and a family guy. I have to know people a little before I open up but on the field I'm the exact opposite. I'm normally much more aggressive on the field, always ready to go and very much a team player. I really want to see the team succeed. That's why I was so excited and fortunate to be drafted by the Giants because they have a great history of proven winners and a family atmosphere.
But at this point I have to learn the new position because I played defensive end in college and that temporarily has affected my normal aggressiveness. I need to become comfortable with my keys and reads and just moving in space but I feel the return to my aggressive nature is right around the corner just as soon as I feel comfortable with myself within the scheme of the defense. Then it's no holds barred but on the field and off the field I'm the exact opposite.
Q. What are you finding to be your greatest challenges in stepping up to the NFL as well as adjusting to a new position?
A. I just think the overall speed of the play calling, not necessarily the speed of the players, but the play calling and how quickly they get set-just the speed of the game itself is definitely at a higher level than it was in college. And the playbook itself. In college I thought our playbook was thick but this one must be twice as thick. There are just so many intricacies as far as what the offense does and how that dictates what you do as a linebacker. You have to be connected with the front line as well as to the guys behind you. In college I knew my position and what I was to do off the line as a defensive end but at this level I have to understand what every piece of the puzzle is doing.
Q. How are you coming with that?
A. Earlier in the week I thought I had a pretty good practice and in the afternoon things started to jell. But then later we installed some new things and the last practice I was a little slow in reading and reacting. But I'm getting a lot of encouragement from my coaches and teammates. They know this is a transition process for me and they seem to have faith in me.
Q. You said you were a little slow making your reads during the last practice. Was that entirely with the new material that was just installed?
A.Yes, it was just the new stuff. Going from the chalkboard to the field, even though it makes sense when the coach is drawing it up, in actual live situations it varies greatly. So that's just one of the things that will come with repetition. I need to play in that position and play in space a little bit more.
Q Have you much experience dropping back into coverage?
A. No, to be honest the first time I really had to do that was when I was training in position specific drills and I had a perfect score. Then at Texas vs. the Nation game I had a little experience dropping into space. It really picked up a notch when we started rookie minicamp and OTAs. So it's fairly new to me.
It's something that I'm getting help with every day on proper drops and angles against specific formations. It's a work in progress but that's true of everything right now. I think the area in which I need the most work is when offensive formations are adjusted or when they shift or go in motion. A corner might not be there on the outside or a linebacker might have to bump out or you might have to rotate in. Right now realizing what all the pieces of the puzzle are and what I have to do, I'm still learning all that. Once that all falls into place, then I'll really be ready to play.
Q. You played some linebacker in high school but did you play any in college at all?
A. No, but we had certain defensive positions where as defensive ends we dropped back but I never actually lined up at linebacker. I was a Mike in high school.
Q. You already mentioned some things that you feel you need to master. Conversely, what are your strengths?
A. I'm willing to work and that is my greatest strength, I think. I'll do whatever I need to do to get better every day. I don't want to say the linebacker position is foreign to me now but I'm also not comfortable in the role yet either. That being said, I'm very excited about the opportunity I have here and the coaches' faith in me, my physical ability and my mental capacity to learn this position and to get the job done. But thus far, everything at linebacker is a weakness so I'm always pushing to get better.
Q. You seem to have some significant hurdles to overcome.
A. That's kind of been the story of my life. When I came out of high school, it wasn't a highly recruited area by the colleges so when I had the opportunity to play for William & Mary as a walk on, I just jumped at that. As long as you can get the opportunity, how well you succeed is in your hands then. This is no different.
Coming from a small school and changing positions may not be in my favor but it's not something that I'm not used to. I definitely accept the challenge and am ready to go forward. I'm very excited. I want to contribute to the team; I want them to see me as an important piece on and off the field. And I want to be a complete player.
Q. Given that you have to be prepared and willing to step into any of the linebacker positions at any time, you have innate abilities that differ from the next guy and that suit you for one position over another. Where do you see your best fit?
A.I think the Sam position where I'm at right now is probably the best for me. We haven't gotten to the packages where we at Sam get to come off the edge and rush the passer. That will be coming shortly. Sam is good for me because I kind of have a little bit of support around me. I'm not usually the one at the end on the island where I would be lined up on a receiver by myself. I'm matched up with people like the tight end and fullback and at this point in my transition from end to linebacker I feel comfortable and can handle them.
When I become more comfortable with playing in space and recognizing keys and reads then I'll be able to read and react more quickly. But to be honest in order to understand this defense, especially at the linebacker spot, you pretty much have to know what every linebacker is doing. That allows you to be more versatile when you understand what everyone is doing and it helps you to understand the defense as a whole.
Q. Barring injury it's probably not in the cards for you to start this year but could you really be ready if called, given all the adjustments you have to make?
A. Whenever they're ready, I'm ready. I'm just trying to grasp the position now but I think I'm doing it pretty well. I'm always hard on myself and I'll be the first one to tell you so. If I mess up on a play or I don't read it as the coaches want me to, then I'm down on myself and sometimes that can be a detriment to my game. But I just want to be ready because as you say you never know when there could be injuries so you never know when you'll be called. I want to be ready and a reliable piece whether it be on special teams or at SAM. If I am put into a starting role I want there to be no drop off from whoever was there before. I realize that special teams are my doorway in and I love that, I embrace that. A lot of coaches have said that special teams are just as important as offense and defense itself and they evaluate your play on special teams and analyze that in relation to your regular position because there are some intricacies and similarities between linebacker and what I do on special teams.
At the end of the day it's just what you've been doing since you've been a little kid, though you've probably heard that a lot before. So you just go out there and fly around and have fun. Show some enthusiasm and show you enjoy doing what's required of you, then you give them no reason to think you're not here for the right reasons.
[Note: I will be back later with a notebook, and I will be attending today's afternoon practice.]