The New York Giants secondary has had a tumultuous offseason at best with some high high’s involving the signing of James Bradberry and low low’s, most notably the arrest of DeAndre Baker. Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson has been arguably most affected by it all.
Henderson joined the Giants after serving as the Atlanta Falcon’s secondary coach/defensive passing game coordinator last season. He spent four seasons with the Falcons after four seasons coaching under Jason Garrett in Dallas. He worked as the Cowboys’ defensive backs coach from 2012-15 and has also worked for the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns earlier in his career.
Before coaching, Henderson played eight seasons in the NFL as a defensive back with four teams, including the New England Patriots (1991-93, 1996), Buffalo Bills (1993-94), Philadelphia Eagles (1995), and Jets (1997-98).
Because of his coaching and playing experience, Henderson brings a unique perspective to the Giants secondary.
“I think it’s an advantage because a lot of the things I’m coaching, I’ve been in that situation before,” Henderson explained. “I always want to be a coach who can help my guys find answers and teach them on, ‘Tell me what you were thinking right there. Maybe you can pick up in a different way.’
“We play a really tough position. The guys we play against are super, super talented. They know where they’re going, we don’t. We’re always trying to figure it out, react, cut them off and defend them. It’s a hard job. As much wisdom as I can impart, as well as instruction, I try to do that.”
Through his experience coaching on and playing for numerous teams throughout his time in the NFL, Henderson has learned that effective communication is one of the most important things for a secondary to have.
“We should be a loud defense, especially now when you don’t have the fans and the crowd noise,” Henderson said. “We should be a defense you hear talking a lot, communicating, and helping each other play, like the thought process. Only one of us has to remember a certain tip or alert. If one of us can get it, we all should get it. That’s been a big point of emphasis and that’s where my group needs to grow and become communicators of information.”
And the group that Henderson is working with is young. The Giants secondary was ranked 27th in the league by Pro Football Focus heading into the 2020 season in part because of its lack of experience. Bradberry brings four years of experience to the team, but Darnay Holmes, Jabrill Peppers, Julian Love, Xavier McKinney and one of the few returners, Corey Ballentine have five years of professional experience combined.
Henderson is looking to take advantage of that youth though and develop the Giants secondary into more versatile all-around players while they are still learning the ropes in the league. Given the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Henderson said it is even more important for players to feel comfortable at multiple positions.
“If you watch this system of defense, you’ll see that the parts are really interchangeable in the secondary,” Henderson said. “You’ll have safeties sometimes moving down and playing corner. You’ll have corners sometimes moving back to play safety. We’re asking them to learn multiple positions. That gives us flexibility because I always tell them that one week, We are asking them to cross-train and learn multiple spots.”
The concern there is that these young players will become average at multiple positions instead of stellar at one position. Henderson recognize that there is a fine line between versatility and defining a player’s role.
“You’d like to be able to say, ‘Here’s home’ and start there,” Henderson said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, is give them a place to start. ‘This is home. Make sure you know this. But also, keep your eyes on this.’”
Given this emphasis on versatility, Henderson said that every guy is competing in camp and no spot will be given, even to Bradberry, the most experienced of the bunch.
This mean that rookies Darnay Holmes out of UCLA and Xavier McKinney out of Alabama have just as good as shot as anyone on earning playing time. Henderson said that both players have growing to do during camp.
“He’s doing a good job in camp, but he has a long, long way to go,” Henderson said of Holmes. “We haven’t even gotten to the pads yet to really see. That’ll be when you can really see what you have in those guys...He’s been positive, doing some positive things. But we’ll see what he is when we put the pads on and actually compete against each other.”
On McKinney: “Just like all young players, there is going to be a growth curve with him where he’s adjusting to our communication system,” Henderson explained. “But the thing you know about the kid, he loves football. He has a lot of natural ability that you guys all saw when you studied and watched him coming out. We’re excited to have him in the mix, again, learning those multiple spots, honing in on one spot. We’re going to really push him hard to make sure that he continues to grow and become one of those communicators for us on the backend.”
We will see if the Giants try to bring in a veteran free agent to add some experience to the secondary. Until then, it’s on Henderson to find a way to use the youth on his unit as a strength heading into the 2020 season.