The New York Giants added some blocking help for their offense in free agency by signing H-back Will Johnson to a two-year deal. Johnson has the versatility to line up as either a fullback or blocking tight end for New York, a role that fell into the hands of fullback Nikita Whitlock last season. While very little is guaranteed for players signing this late in free agency, Jordan Raanan of NJ.com believes Johnson's arrival in New York could force Whitlock to switch to the other side of the ball on a more permanent basis.
Whitlock recorded 18.5 sacks as a defensive tackle during his college career at Wake Forest, but his short stature made the dream of playing defense in the NFL a far-fetched one. Whitlock signed as an undrafted fullback with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014. It wasn't until last season with the Giants when, per ESPN's Dan Graziano, special-teams coach Larry Izzo lobbied D-coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to give Whitlock a chance in New York's final preseason game that the Giants learned why Whitlock had been an All-ACC D-lineman. He was able to make an impact early in the season as a late-fourth quarter pass rusher, in addition to his fullback and special-teams duties. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely due to a knee injury while playing defense in late December.
Raanan has learned from a source that Whitlock has spent the offseason putting on weight, now in the low 260s, and is preparing to play even more defense. One of the biggest issues with trying to play both sides of the ball is the daily conflicting position group meeting schedules, so Raanan wouldn't be surprised if Whitlock spends more time in the D-line room this season than at RB meetings. Last season, Whitlock had to go through film of opposing O-linemen on his own for a couple hours at the end of each week, according to Graziano. As Whitlock put it, "I do my own meetings."
Raanan did a film study of Whitlock's eight defensive snaps last September from a New York win over the Washington Redskins, highlighting the undersized player's quick first step and inside spin move. As former coach Tom Coughlin said about Whitlock's defensive abilities at the time, "He's legitimate."