Listen closely when the Giants are on defense this season, and you just might hear Xavier McKinney.
The Giants’ third-year safety is taking an expanded role in the defense during training camp, which began this week, and has been given the green dot to wear on his helmet. That labels McKinney as having the radio connected to his helmet, and defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s play calls will go directly to him. Not only is it his responsibility to relay those calls to the rest of the defense, but it’s also his responsibility to call the plays on his own, if necessary.
The 23-year-old isn’t new to bearing the green dot, however. During his days playing for Alabama, he held the same responsibility under Nick Saban.
“I talked to Wink, and it’s not something that’s new to me,” McKinney said.
The Giants’ implementation of a new defense is part of the reason McKinney is up to the task.
“I feel a lot more comfortable because I’m able to do everything,” he said, with regard to the new scheme. “It’s definitely been fun being able to be everywhere on the field.”
Indeed, he has been everywhere. McKinney was all over the place, from deep downfield to blitzing through the offensive line. He almost intercepted a pass from Daniel Jones on Friday.
Before practice, head coach Brian Daboll explained the value to the Giants of having signal-callers such as McKinney who are able to make the scheme decisions on their own.
“I think signal-callers, X and Daniel, they’re relaying plays in at times to the players,” Daboll said. “So, putting them on the other end of it, there’s some friendly competition fire there, and the guys get a kick out of it.”
Daboll said they will cut off Martindale’s and Mike Kafka’s headsets to make sure McKinney and Jones can work on their toes.
“It could happen in a game like that, and now they have to take control and be able to operate and not panic and all the hand gestures,” he said. “Just go out and make sure you have a play call in mind and be able to lead the team.”
McKinney said the experience was a fun competition between him and Jones, and while he thought he didn’t pick the best plays in practice, he has been able to call them with confidence thanks to offseason study sessions with retired safety Eric Weddle, whom Martindale coached in 2018 during his time as Ravens defensive coordinator.
The defensive coordinator was able to connect Weddle. a six-time Pro Bowl selection, with McKinney during the offseason, and the two worked through film and schemes over the phone multiple times before preseason training began.
With the insight of Weddle, who retired for the second time after helping the Rams win Super Bowl LVI this past February, McKinney will look to improve upon his strong 2021 campaign while also calling the shots from the secondary. He played in all 17 games last year, collecting 10 pass deflections and five interceptions, including a 41-yard pick-six.
“We had a good convo,” McKinney said of Weddle. “He really helped me out, as far as looking at film and studying film, how he studied it, what he did when he had Wink.”