New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas joined Pat Traina (Bleacher Report/Inside Football) and myself on the latest edition of the 'Big Blue Chat' podcast. The engaging, thoughtful linebacker is in his first year with the Giants. He offered an interesting answer when asked which of his new teammates is a much better player than he thought.
Casillas' answer? Fullback Nikita Whitlock.
"He's very impressive. You don't really see him a lot, kinda small in stature, but he's one of the strongest guys on the team. Not even pound for pound -- he's one of the strongest guys on the team. He's very smart, very intuitive. Really good on special teams," Casillas said.
"I watch him, gotta go against him, he plays fullback ... we bang against each other. He plays with tremendous pop, power, strength and he plays very well on special teams That's one guy who I had no idea who he was, and he's one of the better guys out here ... He's a football player."
Casillas, entering his sixth season, signed with the Giants as a free agent during the offseason. Here is more from our interview with him. The questions are paraphrased.
What are you seeing from the defense now that the pads are on?
Casillas: "When you put the pads on you start seeing who your football players are. People call it your underwear and stuff like that when you're running through with the shells. You don't get to see who are the true football players. Quarterbacks get to throw and receivers get to catch, stuff like that. ... Linemen get to do work know, defensive linemen against the offensive linemen, linebackers you see who can fill gaps, who can hit, who can't hit.
"Spags' defense is coming to life out here."
How much has Steve Spagnuolo changed over the years? [Casillas played for him in New Orleans]
Casillas: "He's the same guy. Very fiery. He's very adamant and passionate about what he does. His intent is not questioned at all.
"He's developed with the times. The league's more of a passing league, even from three, four years ago. The rules that they have to protect offensive players, the receivers and the quarterbacks you've got to change or manipulate your defense a little bit and I feel like he's done so."
What about the Giants' offense gives a defense the most fits?
Casillas: "They give us such a hard time because we're installing this new defense, and then they come out with shifts and motions and tight ends here, X and Z together, X and Z apart and it's like ‘Can y'all just line up in a pro formation, please?'
"It's making us better, it's making us learn more. Some things that you wouldn't traditionally think you'll get right away we're getting first and second series. That's good. It's stressing us defensively mentally. It's getting us into situations where we do have to go in and talk about it in the linebacker room or the defensive room collectively."
What are you seeing in this defense that makes you confident you guys can be better this year?
Casillas: "Steady improvement. We get better every day. I thought the first two days weren't great at all defensively and we've been improving every day. You like to see that defensively. YOu like to see when you do put the pads on are your guys physical, how's the 9-on-7 looking, are your safeties coming downhill, how are your ends holding up the edge? I feel like we're progressing every day.
"We have this thing that we call ‘relentless,' and it's basically how you run to the ball. If you watch practice every guy on the defensive side of the ball is running to the ball, no matter where it's at. ... That's a culture that we're establishing here. It doesn't matter what they did last year and I say they because I was not here last year, Spags wasn't here last year, J.T. Thomas wasn't here last year, Landon Collins wasn't here last year. It's a new defense with new guys."
When you see an injury like the one suffered by Jameel McClain how do you support him?
Casillas: "You just keep him involved. At the end of the day we're all football players. He's a brother to us in the room, and we put our arm around him. .. We care about him. Not to just make him feel good, but because we do care about him.
"I didn't know what happened to him. I saw him on the ground, I tried to help him up, he didn't want to get up. I didn't know something was wrong. He knew it, but he was smiling when he was on the ground. I was like ‘what the heck is wrong with this dude?' Come to find out I see the play and it was one of the worst type of injuries that I've seen.
"It wasn't that bad but the way he fell it looked like something that could be a lot more serious than what it looked like.You don't ever want to see anything like that from teammates or people you're playing against. You never want to see anything like that."
Pat and I also talk a lot about our impressions of training camp to this point. Don't miss it!