New Giants defensive coordinator Shane Bowen sounds alarm for players to step up: ‘It ain’t on us’

First-year defensive coordinator Shane Bowen became the first New York Giants coach to publicly acknowledge the obvious on Wednesday:

The product on the field this spring wasn’t good enough, even after two forced turnovers by the backups in this final spring practice. And it won’t suffice in August or September.

“Bottom line: We need guys to start separating themselves,” Bowen, 37, the former Titans coordinator, said of his defense. “As we get going those first few weeks in training camp, we’ve got to start defining roles. I want to see guys take opportunities, grab them and start to pull away.”

“I’ve seen improvement,” he added. “I would say not enough … We’ve taken some big strides. [But] I told them this morning, six weeks from now we’ve got to come back ready to roll. The clock is ticking.”

Just when Bowen seemed to have his finger on the pulse, though, he made a surprising comment about how the Giants’ players ultimately can make those leaps:

It’s on the players themselves, not the coaches.

“They’re going to earn their role. It ain’t on us,” Bowen said, referring to all of his players, when asked how rookie safety Tyler Nubin can earn first-team work. “We’re going to coach the hell out of them and give them every opportunity they can imagine. We’re going to try to get them in the best spots that fit their skill sets. When the time comes, they have to make the plays and show they deserve more.”

Who is to say that the Giants’ new defensive scheme is positioning those players to maximize their skill sets, though? The coaches bear responsibility, too.

This defense tied for the NFL lead with 31 takeaways last year. Will it do so again this fall?

Or who is to say some of those players aren’t backups being forced into starters’ roles they aren’t fully prepared to execute? The front office is a huge part of this, as well.

Nubin fell on a Dante Miller fumble forced by Elijah Riley on Wednesday for one of the defense’s two takeaways, but the No. 47 overall second-round safety clearly hasn’t blown coaches away this spring.

GMs are paid to pick better players that help teams win more games. Coaches are paid to optimize their players’ talents and strengths to help teams win more games. Players are paid to execute and win games.

As the Giants wrapped their two-day minicamp with a glorified walk-through, however, this operation feels a long way away from consistently competitive football from the top-down.

Every position room is either lacking a high-end star or meaningful depth. And many are missing both. The pass rushers are their only hope for a dominant group.

First-round rookie receiver Malik Nabers looks like a possible Day 1 star. Otherwise, these practices raised more questions than answers about a pivotal 2024 season for GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll, including the ballooning injury group by spring’s end.

What’s just as concerning, though, was the rhetoric Daboll and his coaches continued using on Wednesday. It was seemingly aimed at damage control of last season’s staff dysfunction that prompted widespread departures and turnover, pointing the finger somewhere else.

Daboll called offensive coordinator Mike Kafka “a good teammate” and pointed out that Kafka — who the team blocked from leaving for a lateral move to the Seattle Seahawks — “might be the longest-tenured offensive coordinator I think at one place.”

Kafka, who acknowledged he has been “just complementary” to the new play-caller Daboll this spring, claimed Daboll’s offensive operation has been “collaborative” since “Day 1.”

Bowen said of his own style: “It’s not the Shane Bowen way. There [are] no egos involved here. We are going to be a very collaborative group as a coaching staff.”

But relitigating and implicating the past is not going to help Daboll and the Giants win this season. Public relations games aren’t NFL games.

The group of executives, coaches and players in the building now are the ones charged with turning this around. A lot of them are new, like Bowen and many of the coaches and players.

Or they’re in new roles, like Daboll calling plays and Kafka being sidelined. But their opponents won’t care about that. This team has to be comfortable in its new identity by September, which is why Bowen said he doesn’t want to hear his scheme referred to as a “new defense” anymore.

“We were a new defense nine weeks ago; we’re the Giants defense now, right?” Bowen said.

The clock is ticking. And everyone is charged with getting this right.

Herndon signs after pick

It only took one Tommy DeVito interception for corner Tre Herndon III to become a Giant.

Herndon, 28, a six-year Jaguar on a tryout in this week’s minicamp, snagged a DeVito pass tipped by linebacker Darrian Beavers on Wednesday and then signed with the team.

He worked out of the slot with the defensive reserves in his first two days on the field, but he has NFL experience on the outside, too. So he will compete for playing time this summer.

Slayton a no-go

Wide receivers Darius Slayton, Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Chase Cota, who all got hurt during Tuesday’s practice, did not practice Wednesday. Ford-Wheaton has a sprained shoulder and Cota broke his collarbone, per The Athletic.

The following players also remained sidelined with some sort of injury: right tackle Evan Neal (left ankle), linebackers Micah McFadden and Isaiah Simmons, returner Gunner Olszewski (left foot), tight ends Jack Stoll and Daniel Bellinger, defensive tackle Timmy Horne, safety Gervarrius Owens and corners Tre Hawkins III (illness) and Stantley Thomas-Oliver III.

Wideout Isaiah McKenzie did some special teams drills and split his time on the side.

Put your feet up

A lot of the Giants’ healthy top players probably didn’t even need to shower after Wednesday’s practice. Left tackle Andrew Thomas, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, pass rusher Brian Burns, middle linebacker Bobby Okereke and running back Devin Singletary all sat out of the 11-on-11 team drills. Pass rusher Azeez Ojulari continued to sit out team drills, as well, though it’s not clear if that’s precautionary or due to some issue.

Eluemunor staying at guard

The Giants did not make Neal available to the media this week despite being requested on both days. So he still has not spoken to the New York media since last season. While left guard Jermaine Eluemunor acknowledged he can shift out to right tackle if needed, Eluemunor said he intends to train solely at guard this offseason because he has full trust in Neal. That means Josh Ezeudu is the Giants’ swing tackle at the moment.

“Now that I’m moving to left guard, I’d rather just stay there and really hone [in] on that position and perfect that,” Eluemunor said.

Weird scene

Daboll clarified that Bellinger does have an injury that has kept him out of team work.

“Something happened a few weeks ago,” Daboll said. “He’s OK. He’s probably good to go right now, but I’m being cautious with him. He’ll be fine. He’ll be good.”

Bellinger claimed Tuesday he was not injured and was “letting” teammates Theo Johnson and Lawrence Cager get more “mental growth” instead of “taking all the reps” himself. Apparently that wasn’t true.

The Giants will have a team cookout Thursday at the facility before breaking until training camp in late July.