Tom Coughlin pleased with rookies

Updated: September 7, 2011, 10:17 AM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants team on the practice field Monday morning was significantly smaller than when the team last convened on Friday.

The Giants sliced their roster from 80 to 53 players on Saturday evening, and after an off day on Sunday, the team began their preparation in earnest for their regular season opener in Washington on Sunday.

Of the 53 players on the current Giants roster, a whopping 10 of them are rookies -- seven draft picks, plus three undrafted free agents. Coach Tom Coughlin was asked after Monday's practice if having that many rookies is a good thing.

"It's gonna be a good thing -- it's gotta be a good thing," Coughlin said, laughing. "They bring vitality, they bring energy. I just hope we can last through it, chain it all down and get it going in the right direction."

What's more unusual is that the Giants retained four rookie linebackers, among their seven already on the roster. That means, at least as the roster is currently constructed, four players with zero NFL experience will be backing up the starting trio of Michael Boley, Jonathan Goff and Mathias Kiwanuka.

All four newcomers said that things felt different at practice on Monday.

"Everything picks up," said Mark Herzlich, the undrafted rookie out of Boston College. "Speed picks up a little bit. You saw it even just today in the walkthrough, there was a little bit more sense of urgency, in terms of getting things done right, getting things done fast. ... This week it's all about business."

Herzlich is the biggest name among the four first-year linebackers -- a former ACC Defensive Player of the Year, who has overcome a rare form of bone cancer in his left leg to make his NFL dreams come true.

Herzlich admitted that he was on pins and needles on Saturday waiting for the 6 p.m. deadline to find out whether he was going to be cut. He spent the morning having breakfast at IHOP with fellow rookies Spencer Paysinger, Tyler Sash and Henry Hynoski, and then the afternoon in Chili's by himself watching the Boston College-Northwestern game.

When 6 p.m. came and went, Herzlich hadn't received a phone call from the Giants -- meaning he had made the team. "It was the most anticlimactic happy ending that you can think of," he said.

But Herzlich is not satisfied with just making the team, or with being a heartwarming story because he has recovered from cancer.

"I wanna try to go from being a feel-good story to making an impact on the field," Herzlich said.

All four rookie linebackers want to make a big impact on the field. And the four of them have bonded, both on and off the field -- in fact, Herzlich said they're all planning to live near each other.

"In a way it's nice, only because we all know where we came from," said Greg Jones, a sixth-round draft choice out of Michigan State. "We all worked our butts off to get to this point, and we all have a lot of mutual respect for one another. So I think that's important. We take that and we use it."

"We definitely got used to knowing each other and understanding how we all are," said Jacquian Williams, also a sixth-round pick, from South Florida. "And we just push each other. We're doing pretty good."

"All of us individually, we have some different things that we can bring to the team," said Spencer Paysinger, the other undrafted free agent, from Oregon. "Mark's a bigger guy, he can run down the field. Jacquian can cover people. Greg is really good inside the box. I can do a couple things. We all bring something to the table."

For now, these four will mostly be contributing on special teams. But it's a long season. And the way the injury bug has bitten the Giants already during the preseason, they better be prepared to see some action on defense as well.

And they better not take their roster spots for granted. The Giants could certainly make some personnel moves over the course of the year. When Coughlin was asked about the state of the roster on Monday, he replied, "Well, it's our team, but we're constantly looking to upgrade and improve."

But after talking to the young linebackers on Monday, you didn't get the impression that motivation will be a problem.

"It's a great feeling to make it this far," Herzlich said. "I just gotta keep working and working and working, to try to stay on the team.

"I've officially made it for a day. I got through today, and I think at 12:30 we're done here, so that's one day. I don't think anybody tries to make the NFL for a day."

Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com.

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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