Saquon Barkley isn’t the correct answer. And neither is Will Hernandez.
The question is: Which Giants rookie has received the most first-team reps?
Going back to spring workouts, that title, actually, belongs to B.J. Hill, the defensive lineman from N.C. State who has seamlessly blended in up front in the new-look Giants defense.
He’s even surprised himself by how fast it happened.
“Yeah, my eyes were like, ‘Whoa!’ It was a little different,” Hill admitted about immediately jumping in with the starters. “I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but I was on my toes a little bit like — I don’t know how to explain it, it was just a little different. I had to make sure I was on my ‘A’ game and know what I was doing.”
Hill has yet to disappoint, flashing the skills that led the Giants to use their third-round pick on him. Head coach Pat Shurmur recently singled him out, saying “B.J. Hill is coming really fast,” when asked about the defensive line in general. In the spring, defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison — one of the premier run-stuffers in the sport — praised Hill, saying in time he “will be a dominant player in this league.”
“When I saw some of his college film, I knew what kind of guy he was,” fellow defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. “I love how he comes in every day with a positive mindset and wants to get better.”
Hill was a late bloomer, a three-star recruit out of West Stanly High School (Oakboro, N.C.) who was also a running back. N.C. State was one of just three scholarship offers he received, along with North Carolina and East Carolina. But he quickly developed with the Wolfpack, starting five games as a freshman. In four years at N.C. State, the 6-foot-3, 311-pound Hill racked up 183 total tackles and 23.5 for a loss, along with eight sacks, nine passes defensed, one interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. That was in a base 4-3 defense.
With the Giants, Hill will be part of defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s aggressive 3-4 scheme that will require the defensive linemen to play the one-gap technique, where players are encouraged to move up the field rather than absorb blockers. In the spring, Bettcher said Hill has the potential to play on all three downs, and that’s his mindset, too.
“I feel like I’m athletic enough to play on all downs and I bring a lot to the table,” Hill said. “That’s why I feel like they drafted me. I’m glad I’m here. I’m in a great situation with great players, great coaches and a great organization.”
The Giants will feature a different look up front in Bettcher’s defense, with three 300-pounders along the line. Tomlinson loves the new system, saying it relies more on penetration and attacking from the defensive line than last year’s edition. And the second-year pro believes the Giants have the talent up front — and the veteran to lead them in Harrison — to execute that aggressive strategy.
“We got something special in there,” Tomlinson said. “We’re all great at stopping the run. When we’re all out there together, we communicate real good. We continue to get better each and every day.
“With Snacks teaching me and B.J. stuff each and every day, we’re always learning something new from him.”
— Additional reporting by Greg Joyce
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