When I sat down to chat with New York Giants wide receiver/special team ace Derek Hagan Tuesday during Giants Training Camp at the University at Albany, one of the things Hagan said to me is "I don't like to talk about myself too much."
That's OK, especially since Hagan has talked plenty with his play on the field the first few days of camp. The five-year veteran out of Arizona State has caught everything that has come his way, including a couple of long balls, as he bids for a bigger role in the Giants' offense in 2010.
"I'm always fighting because I want to play, I want to do whatever I need to do to help this team win, period. There's no other way around it," Hagan said. "In this league there's new guys coming in every year and I definitely want to stay one step ahead of them so I know I've got to work harder than them.
"When I step on that field my mentality is to just go hard at all times -- don't ever get comfortable. Once you get comfortable that's when guys can creep up on you.
"Every play has to be like it's your last play."
With wide receiver Domenik Hixon down for the season with a knee injury, Hagan knows there is playing time up for grabs. Hagan spoke prior to Hakeem Nicks getting hurt Tuesday night, but with the Giants holding their breath and waiting for Nicks' news, the situation may become even more magnified.
"It's unfortunate for Domenik to get injured. He's a friend of ours," Hagan said. "Even when he was here we were all competing. there wasn't one day where a guy was just lackadaisical. Everybody knew when you step on that field it's time to compete. Since he's not around there is snaps that are out there, and that's what training camp is for.
"Coaches are trying to find certain guys who can do certain things, and I definitely try to take advantage of it."
That is precisely what the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hagan has done ever since coming to the Giants late in the 2008 season after being released by the Miami Dolphins.
In 2009 it appeared the Giants had no room for Hagan with a myriad of young wide receivers on the roster. Hagn, though, consistenly stood out in receiving drills and took to special teams play so well that he forced the Giants to keep him.
He rewarded them by becoming quite possibly the team's best special teams player in coverage and catching eight passes in limited playing. Four of those catches, though, came in the final three games of the season.
Hagan was drafted in the third round by Miami in 2006. He played fairly regularly there his first two seasons, catching 21 and 29 passes during those seasons. He developed a reputation for dropping too many passes, though, and the Dolphins released him halfway through the 2008 season when he had only three catches. The release is something that drives him.
" I feel like I have to prove myself every day. You definitely have to go out there trying to prove yourself on any given day because you never know what can happen," Hagan said. ""I never knew I was going to get released, but it happened. Now it's behind me and now I have to work harder to make sure that doesn't ever happen to me again."
Hagan has done a lot of good things the past two seasons for the Giants. He did, however, have a forgettable moment during Tuesday morning's workout, in which we learned that he probably could not fill the role of emergecy quarterback if the Giants ever needed one.
Running a reverse option pass, Hagan chucked a wounded duck deep down field into double coverage and was fortunate the ball fell incomplete after being batted down rather than becoming an interception. Not his best moment, but he laughed about it when I kidded him.
"When we were warming up the balls were fine, there was nothing wrong with it," Hagan said. "But once a defender was coming at me now I see how Eli has it. I don't know how he does it, when a defender's coming at you it's a little more difficult to throw the ball. I was a little off. Hopefully I'll get another chance at that."
Returning to a more serious note, Hagan also knows that he might be fighting the fact that all of the guys he is battling for playing time are players General Manager Jerry Reese drafted. Nicks, Mario Manningham, Ramses Barden, Sinorice Moss -- even Travis Beckum.
We were sitting outside the cafeteria at UAlbany when I asked Hagan about that, and he shifted perceptibly as though he really didn't want to go there. He answered the question honestly, though.
"That just pushes me more. I know those guys, they were the Giants draft picks but I know I'm a Giant also. Just because I wasn't their draft pick doesn't mean I can't come in and help this team win and make plays. That's where it just comes down to trying to compete and outwork the next man.
'We're all friends and we all hang out together, but we also know that we're all competing at the same time."
Hagan has become a stalwart and a leader on all of the Giants' special teams units. He had never been on those teams prior to last season, but has found a niche as an excellent player on coverage teams.
"Last year was really my first year playing special teams. It's something I like to do, it's fun. It's not just coaches throwing you on it, you've got to want to do it. You've got to show up and be ready for it," Hagan said. "Last year I feel like I made plays, but I was still learning. This year I'm still learning, but I'm able just to play and react instead of thinking about it so much.
"I have to take that (special teams) seriously. That's something I want to do."
With Hagan having such a key role on special teams I had to ask him about the effect having a new punter (rookie Matt Dodge) would have on punt coverage.
"We just have to get used to him. We have to understand where he kicks the ball and how high his hang time is. For me being on the outside I just have to figure out how I'm going to get off the line to get down the field.
With Feags (Jeff Feagles) we knew where the ball was going at all times. We didn't have to worry about him kicking the ball somewhere else besides where it was supposed to go, and with these new kickers we're not sure yet."
What Hagan has shown the Giants the past two seasons is that one thing they can be sure of is that they will get his maximum effort every day.
#80 / Wide Receiver / New York Giants
Sep 21, 1984