As special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey enters his fourth consecutive season with the New York Giants, he will aim to bring back a quality that was missing from the unit last season: consistency.
In order to achieve this in 2021, McGaughey will rely on a combination of veterans, including defensive backs Jabrill Peppers and Julian Love, and newcomers.
“Jabrill was our special teams captain last year, and I’ll lean on him definitely heavily,” McGaughey said. “He does a hell of a job with our guys and getting them ready and just being a great example on how to prepare and how to work every day.
“So, we got a really good group of men that understand what it takes to play at a high level and we just got to build and help these young guys to bring them along.”
Here are more takeaways on specific players from McGaughey’s press conference with the Giants media Tuesday.
On Graham Gano and his competition
Gano turned in one of the best seasons of his career in 2020. He converted 30 consecutive field goal attempts, the longest streak in Giants history. But backup Ryan Santoso has proved in both practice and in Saturday’s game against the Jets that he also has a big leg.
“He’s going in here, he’s competing for a job and not only is he competing for a job here, he’s competing for a job all over the league,” McGaughey said. “Ryan has great upside, he’s a good man, he works his tail off. That’s what this league is all about, it’s about competition and hopefully Ryan can do enough where he can get a job, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”
McGaughey also highlighted Santoso’s versatility as a kicker.
“Ryan can punt, kick — I’m serious, he’s very talented and he’s punted in NFL games before, he’s kicked off, he can kick field goals, so Ryan is a very talented young man,” McGaughey said.
Santoso will get the majority of reps in preseason games while Graham, who is entering his 12th NFL season, will also get some touches.
“We’re going to ramp Graham up slowly,” McGaughey said. “This is Graham’s 12th year and he’s done it at a high level for a long time, so we’re going to let him work himself to where he feels comfortable and then we’ll go from there.”
On punter Riley Dixon
Punter Riley Dixon has been working to expand his repertoire of kicks.
“Riley has a few kicks in his bag, he’s working on a few different things,” McGaughey said. “When we work with him, we’re really focused on one punt at a time, so we’re not all over the map. We have a plan with him when he’s out there working, but he’s doing a nice job of developing the tool bag.”
On what makes Cam Brown unique
Due to the injuries at the Giants’ edge position last season, linebacker Cam Brown, a 2020 sixth-round selection, saw his fair share of action. He played 94 defensive snaps but really came into his own on special teams, logging 311 snaps. Brown finished second amongst special teams players in tackles at six. The Giants have been working with Brown as a primary punt gunner thus far.
“Cam’s just a unique individual,” McGaughey said. “I told you guys last year that we expect a lot out of him because he has a lot to give. He’s very talented, he’s a rare bird. He’s just different. You don’t see a lot of guys like that, so when you have that type of skill set he poses a problem to the opponent. A big, strong, long, smart football player who has ability and he’s got young legs, so he can run all day. It’s fun to coach him and we’re excited to watch him play.”
At 6-foot-5, 233 pounds, Brown is one of the bigger gunners McGaughey has seen. Brown’s length combined with his strength is part of what makes him so explosive.
“Using that length, the strength and being able to bend and come out of his hips, that’s a whole different skillset combined with the length,” McGaughey said. “I always tell people, ‘Long levers are strong lever,’ so if I can bend and come out of my hips and I can use my length, that guy that’s on the other side of the line of scrimmage that’s normally 5’11”, 5’10”, 191-195, maybe 200 pounds, and I’m 230 and I got more length and I can bend, I’m going to win that matchup most of the time.”
On Kadarius Toney earning his spot
McGaughey has already said this preseason that first-round selection Kadarius Toney needs to prove himself in practice in order to earn playing time. This has been difficult lately though as Toney has been out due to an injury and did not play Saturday night against the Jets.
“He’ll get out there eventually and Kadarius is a smart kid, works his tail off and he’s just got to get through the situation right now,” McGaughey said. “Once he gets through his situation, he’ll be fine. He’s just got to keep working.”
The injury is the latest in a series of absences for Toney. He has missed time from spring to summer because of a cleat problem, his contract, a family emergency and COVID-19.
“We’re looking for guys that can add value,” McGaughey said. “We’re going to build our roster from the top down and the bottom up. So, if we get in a situation where we got to go to another guy, pull a guy off the practice squad, he’s not going to step right in and beat out (WR) Kenny (Golladay) and he ain’t taking his spot. We’re going to pull him up, so he can run down on kickoff and provide depth.”
On Matt Cole’s flashes
Another wide receiver looking to prove himself is Matt Cole, who turned in a strong performance in Saturday’s preseason opener.
“Anytime you can down a ball inside the 10, the percentages of you stopping the other team from scoring go up and that’s what we do, we play the percentages,” McGaughey said. “And to be able to evaluate our gunners and be able to evaluate our punt team, to be able to evaluate those guys and see what they can do and how they perform. Matt Cole went down there and made a good play, and it was big for him.”
Overall, McGaughey said that he liked what he saw from Cole against the Jets.
“He came in right off the street, jumped right in and did a hell of a job,” McGaughey said. “He went down there and down the ball inside the five and he had some nice releases as a gunner. He showed his feet, he showed what he was, so that was definitely a plus for him.”