<
>

Eli Apple receiving plenty of first-team work at Giants training camp

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' first-round pick has been overshadowed by the second-round pick so far in training camp. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard's playmaking skills have allowed cornerback Eli Apple, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2016 NFL draft, to fly somewhat under the radar.

So I put the Giant spotlight on Apple during Thursday’s practice. Here is a rundown.

10:45 a.m.: The Giants are done stretching and break off into individual drills. The cornerbacks take direction from coach Tim Walton. Apple (6-foot-1) appears to be the tallest of the bunch even though Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is listed at 6-2. If DRC is taller, it's by a hair. Maybe it's just that Apple appears long.

11:05 a.m.: The cornerbacks are running a drill in which they're supposed to attack and high-point the ball. Apple's attempts are just OK. You can tell this isn't his strength. He doesn't attack the ball as would, say, Rodgers-Cromartie and the diminutive Donte Deayon.

11:10 a.m.: It's 2-on-2, wide receivers versus cornerbacks. Apple runs step for step with Dwayne Harris on one play. He has good coverage on Kadron Boone on another. Both incomplete. Boone catches his ball but is ruled out of bounds by the on-site officials.

Apple is winning at the line of scrimmage. He plays physical.

"He's a tough kid," said wide receiver Tavarres King, who had a handful of catches during Thursday's practice but none against Apple. "He's got some stuff that you can't coach. He's got some dog in him. Real competitive. Hungry. ... I think we got a gem."

Those words might as well have been spoken by general manager Jerry Reese. The Giants front office loves players that have some dog in them. We have certainly heard that expression before around the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

11:25 a.m.: The Giants are running kickoff-return drills. Apple is on the first-team return unit, starting closest to the sideline.

11:30 a.m.: Team drills begin. It's 7-on-7s, which are basically live drills without linemen. Apple sits out the first two plays, then steps in for Rodgers-Cromartie outside at left cornerback. This is the only spot Apple plays at practice. He's being worked exclusively at left cornerback.

The first play Apple is on the field, he allows a completion down the sideline from quarterback Eli Manning to Geremy Davis. The coverage isn't bad. Davis makes an excellent leaping catch and gets both feet down with Apple on his hip.

Where Apple went wrong is that after redirecting the route at the line of scrimmage, he seemed to slow down and almost give up. This provided Davis the smallest of openings, enough to make the catch. Apple didn't locate the football.

To this point, the excessive clutching and grabbing that has become an easy criticism of Apple remains nonexistent. This appears to be a trend.

"It shows up every now and then, but he's been better at it," Walton said. "He's been much better than he was in college with doing that, and I think he'll continue to improve on it. And that's what the reps are for. He's definitely taking a step forward in that area."

11:34 a.m.: The Giants are running a dime defense. Apple, Janoris Jenkins, Rodgers-Cromartie and first-team slot cornerback Trevin Wade are on the field together. Rodgers-Cromartie and Wade are in the slot. Apple is on the outside. This doesn't change for the final three snaps of this drill, when the four cornerbacks are on the field along with two safeties.

The slot rotation the Giants insist is occurring isn't visible during team drills. Jenkins and Apple take zero snaps at that position.

11:42 a.m.: Wide receiver Victor Cruz runs a deep route. Apple is step for step with him down the middle of the field. His physical skills are impressive.

Noon: Back to special teams. This time it's the kickoff team. Apple is working with the top unit there as well.

12:08 p.m.: The live 11-on-11 portion of practice has begun. It's a no-huddle drill. Apple takes the first three snaps with the first-team defense. Rodgers-Cromartie gets the next drive. Jenkins is a constant as the right cornerback and Wade is in the slot for both drives.

This is just another indicator that Apple is part of the Giants' immediate plans.

"We'll get him in there," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "There's a lot of downs in this league now with three wide receivers, four wide receivers, so I don't anticipate that being a problem."

12:20 p.m.: Apple and Rodgers-Cromartie continue to alternate as the first-team left cornerback. Rodgers-Cromartie also takes some snaps in the slot. Apple is used as a blitzer on multiple occasions. Once he is flagged for offside during this period, which is used to practice short-yardage situations. So it's mostly running plays. They're not asked to cover much.

12:30 p.m.: Practice ends and, as has become customary with practices under new Giants coach Ben McAdoo, players do five to 10 minutes of light drills before heading inside. The cornerbacks work on their hands this day. Apple is taking throws from kicker Josh Brown. Strange combo, the first-round pick and the kicker.

Practice is a wrap. In the 110-minute workout, it's not hard to see why Apple was such a high pick. He's a talented cover cornerback. But you can also see there remains a lot for him to learn.

"Look, Eli has a long way to go," Spagnuolo said. "I like what he's doing to this point, but it's going to be a process."