EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the record, the 25 pounds Nikita Whitlock has put on since last year is not an effort to convince the New York Giants to use him at defensive tackle -- though he wouldn't exactly mind if it had that effect.
"I'm praying every night," Whitlock said after Giants' OTA practice Monday.
You might remember Whitlock as the fullback who got into a few games as a defensive tackle for the Giants in 2015. He played nose tackle in college at Wake Forest and always hoped to play that position in the NFL, but when he went to camp as an undrafted rookie in 2014, the Bengals told him they wanted to use him as a fullback.
That's how he got down to 240 pounds, which was his weight this time last year, when he appeared to be the No. 2 fullback on the Giants' roster behind Henry Hynoski. He weighed 265 in college and had to work to keep the weight off -- cutting out carbs, red meat and the like. So getting back up to the 260-265 range was actually kind of fun.
"That's my natural weight, 260," Whitlock said. "Cincinnati wanted a smaller guy to run routes and stuff, but then I'm here last year and I'm looking around. Henry was like 270 at one point. I can play fullback at the higher weight."
Whitlock says he was up to 255 last season before a knee injury ended his season in December. At that time, the Giants' run game had begun to click. His final game was the Week 15 loss to Carolina in which the Giants rushed for 161 yards on 27 carries. Ben McAdoo and the coaching staff have said multiple times that Whitlock's development as a fullback was one of the keys to the improvement, and Whitlock agrees.
"I would say between Weeks 5 and 6, I really started to understand a lot more things," Whitlock said. "Angles, gap entries, when to throw a hard block instead of a finesse block. Just a lot more comfortable in the offense and understanding what the expectations were for the fullback on every play."
So Whitlock knows fullback is his position and his ticket to playing time in the NFL. He put on the weight because he knew he could do it responsibly, because he's more comfortable at the higher weight and because he believed it would help him be a better fullback.
But that doesn't mean he's not hoping for more work on the defensive line. To this point, he's worked exclusively on offense in the offseason program. And the Giants went out and spent big on new defensive line starters Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon, which you'd think would make it tougher for Whitlock to see the field on that side of the ball. But he holds out hope.
"Last year, they used me in a very specific situation," Whitlock said. "Second half, third-and-long, not in the red zone. No one ever came out and said that, but that's where they used me. So I hope that I could do more. They haven't said anything, but they didn't say anything last year either. It just happened."
Whitlock is still a defensive tackle at heart, but he honestly just wants to find any way he can to get on the field and help the Giants win.
"I just look at myself as a tool," Whitlock said. "On offense, I've got the hammerhead, and on defense, I've got the nail remover. So whatever job they need done, I'll do it."