Kyle Lauletta waited, and waited, and waited for an opportunity to play in a game last season. Impatient New York Giants fans, after watching the team start 1-7, were screaming for the rookie fourth-round pick to get that opportunity.
Coach Pat Shurmur kept telling anyone who would listen that Lauletta, who played collegiately at Richmond, an FCS school, wasn’t yet ready to be an NFL quarterback.
In Week 14, a 40-16 blowout victory by the Giants over the Washington Redskins, Lauletta finally got the opportunity many had been waiting to see.
To say the least, it did not go well.
Lauletta went 0-for-5. He had a pass intercepted. The Giants went three-and-out in three of the four series during which Lauletta played, generating two first downs on their final drive while running out the clock.
Lauletta made a frank admission while speaking with me after practice on Monday.
“I learned you’ve gotta be ready. I don’t think mentally I was in that. I wasn’t in a great position to succeed. It’s nobody’s fault but my own,” Lauletta said. “I just felt like mentally I was kinda all over the place, my head was kinda spinning. I was uncharacteristically nervous. Usually when game time hits I slow down. I’m excited moreso than nervous, but that game I was nervous and it just wasn’t a good recipe for success.”
The Dec. 9 game against Washington came 41 days after Lauletta’s arrest for a traffic incident while running late to practice.
“I was not in a good spot. After all that happened I was upset about it. You try to forget about it and move on, but it’s soooo much stuff running through your head,” the 24-year-old said. “Like I said I just don’t think I was mentally prepared to take on an NFL game.”
The only other snap Lauletta played last season was one odd snap in the season finale as a wide receiver.
Lauletta is doing what he can both to move on from the arrest that tainted rookie season, saying “that won’t be a problem anymore.”
“Even last year. I was diligent, I was doing everything I need to do but I slipped up one time and it cost me,” he said. “I wish that hadn’t happened but you’ve gotta move on from it.”
He said Monday that he was “itching to get another chance” to show he can play quarterback at the NFL level.
Problem is, that opportunity is going to be hard to find. The Giants now have sixth overall pick Daniel Jones. They still have Eli Manning. Those two get almost all of the practice reps. Manning will start the season. Jones will get the call if and when Manning and the Giants falter.
Lauletta and veteran Alex Tanney are left with a handful or practice reps here and there as they compete for what they hope will be the No. 3 quarterback spot on the 53-man roster.
Even on Thursday, when Lauletta went 9-of-12 for 116 yards and one touchdown against the New York Jets, he had to wait and wait and wait for his chance. He had to watch Manning and Jones, sit through an hour-long severe weather delay and then watch Tanney play two full quarters before getting his chance.
“It’s hard, especially with the rain delay. It’s tough, but I was fired up, ready to go when I got in,” Lauletta said. “It’s tough, but that’s what the NFL is all about, especially the preseason. You get a limited number of reps. When you get your opportunity you’ve gotta make it happen.”
Lauletta did make it happen. He said his favorite play wasn’t his 31-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Jones. Rather, it was his very first play. That was a 17-yard completion to Reggie White Jr., the undrafted rookie from Monmouth.
“I like that first one to Reggie. Post-corner. He made a helluva play and I thought that was probably my best throw,” Lauletta said. “I thought it was the only place the throw could have been, and he made an unbelievable catch. For a rookie to make that kind of play was really special.”
Here’s the throw, which was squeezed into an exceptionally tight window:
Lauletta’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Jones, who is trying to take advantage of the Giants’ wide receiver injury situation to make the roster, was a back-shoulder throw again placed into a small window.
Here is that throw, from two views:
In the press box during the game, some wondered if the touchdown was an underthrown ball that Jones simply reacted to, or a ball intentionally thrown to the back shoulder. Lauletta’s thoughts on the play:
“I think you have to put it there,” Lauletta said. “I had to get rid of it for one of two reasons. One, the safety is screaming over the top, he’s got no other work on the back side. And there was a guy coming free in my face, so I had to get rid of that ball pretty early. I just knew, hey, I’m going to try to put it on his back shoulder.”
Lauletta credited Pat Shurmur’s play-calling for giving him opportunities to succeed during the game.
“Sometimes just the flow of the game, you call plays that match up with coverages. When you call a play and this play might be great against one coverage but might be terrible against another coverage. It’s kinda luck. If you call a man-beating concept and they play zone you don’t have a great concept,” Lauletta said.
“Every play is not going to crease them for 20, 30 yards. When you get an opportunity, when you call a play that’s a Cover 2 beater and they run Cover 2 it’s a huge play.”
The second-year QB from Richmond will continue to get opportunities during the preseason, even though practice reps granted to Tanney and Lauletta will be sparse. He and Tanney did not get any reps on Sunday, and there were times on Monday when each only got one rep during a practice period.
He’s doing what he can to make the most of those reps, and to find other way to make himself valuable.
“You’ve gotta gain your respect in other ways. Not everybody is going to have the luxury of getting a bunchy of reps,” Lauletta said. “You can gain your respect in the locker room other ways than just playing. Encouraging guys, being part of a team and understanding that you have a role and what you do in the film room or the self-scouting I do for the coaches. Whatever my job is if I do it to the best of my ability it’s ultimately going to help the team. I think that’s what leadership’s all about.
“You’ve gotta have leaders at the top, but you’ve also got to have people at the bottom that are doing their part, and taking pride in what they do.”
Whether all of that will help Lauletta earn a job with the Giants this fall remains to be seen.