Watch Spencer Paysinger play for the New York Giants -- on special teams and at outside linebacker -- and he does not look like what he is. Meaning he does not look like an undrafted rookie free agent trying to figure out what is going on and make an NFL roster without the benefit of any offseason mini-camps or opportunities to learn the playbook.
What Paysinger looks like is an athletic player who appears to know more about what he is doing than you would expect from a 23-year-old who has been in an NFL camp for a month.
Maybe that should not be surprising, considering Paysinger's pedigree. The former Oregon Duck grew up in a football family. His father, Donald Paysinger, was once an assistant with Division I San Jose State and is now head coach at Beverly Hills School. His uncle, Carter Paysinger, was head coach at Beverly Hills High for 19 seasons before turning over the reins to Donald.
"I was a ballboy when I was two years old and a waterboy when I was five years old, so I've been around sports since forever," Paysinger said Wednesday while taking a brief break from the Giants' hectic schedule to chat by phone. "It did give me an advantage being around a coaching environment such as that."
It is not difficult to make the argument that it is Paysinger, not any of the players drafted by the Giants last April, who has been the most impressive rookie during this preseason. Heading into Thursday's final preseason game against the New England Patriots Paysinger has a team-leading 14 tackles in three games.
Paysinger, 6-foot-2, 241 pounds (yes, he said 241 -- not the lighter weights you may have seen listed) has been impressive enough that he has been working as the second-team WILL behind Michael Boley, and recently took reps with the first team when Boley missed a couple of days of practice.
"He's been very impressive," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin at that time. "He's been all around. He's been very good with special teams. He's been good with coverage opportunities. He's been athletic in all the drills."
Paysinger knows that the Giants have roster cuts to make Friday (down to 80) and Saturday (the regular-season 53-man limit).
"I'd be lying to you if I told you I didn't think about it," Paysinger said. "Everybody knows it's the big cuts. Right now we're just focusing on the Patriots. We have a game to play tomorrow, so I can put off worrying about the Friday/Saturday cuts. Just give my all for this Patriots game because it's my last chance to put on my resume."
The Giants have 10 linebackers on the 85-man roster and won't be able to keep that many on the 53-man roster, so a couple of impressive young players are likely to be sent packing simply because there is no room at the inn, so to speak. Considering his impressive performance during the past month it would be stunning if Paysinger is not part of the final roster. He is not, however, taking that for granted.
"I don't think I will ever feel like I've done enough. Truthfully I always want to go the extra step," Paysinger said. "Once I get comfortable I know somebody else is outworking me. Right now I just want to try to play my best game possible come tomorrow."
Paysinger, like the other young linebackers trying to earn a roster spot, understands that he will have to perform well on special teams to make the cut. Fortunately for him -- and thus far for the Giants -- those duties are hardly foreign to him and he has shown an ability to get to the football on kick and punt coverage.
"I can bring experience to it. Back in Oregon I started on pretty much every special team since my redshirt freshman year," Paysinger said. "Even though I'm a rookie to the Giants I feel I'm a veteran to special teams.
"I've been there. I know the schemes, I know how to block. I know how to run down the field and make a tackle."
After going undrafted, Paysinger chose the Giants over the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals. He admitted doing extensive research on the linebacking corps of each team before making his decision.
"I felt like the Giants organization was probably the best chance for me to come in and play for the team," Paysinger said.
Paysinger said not being drafted did not bother him because he knew he would get an opportunity somewhere -- one that he would actually get to choose.
"I went in with the mindset if you don't get drafted don't take it as something bad or nobody wanted you. I didn't go in with high hopes or anything. I think I went in with the right mindset," Paysinger said.
"Once you get to the seventh round a lot of players actually think going out as a free agent is actually better because then you can actually choose where you want to go. You don't got to a team that's congested at that position.
"For me I feel like it worked really well and I picked the right team."
It won't be long now before Paysinger knows for certain whether or not his choice was the right one.