When he was breaking down Eli Apple before the draft, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had to spend more time watching video than looking at the stat sheets. What he found, he said, was a lot of “hidden production” from the Ohio State cornerback, who would use his press-coverage skills to bottle up opponents and scare quarterbacks away from throwing in his direction.
“It was weird this past season not getting that many targets, because when you play as a freshman, you get all of the targets,” Apple said.
That’s about to change again. Now that he is a rookie in the NFL, it’s back to being tested. The first-round pick said he’s up for that.
“I expect that, just to see how I’m going to react to things and see if I’m actually the real deal,” he said of quarterbacks throwing in his direction. “I expect that and I’m looking forward to it.”
He got a quick taste of it Friday in his first practice with the Giants at their rookie minicamp. Apple lined up against second-round pick Sterling Shepard in one 11-on-11 drill, and the two marquee picks went head-to-head in one of the highlight plays of the workout.
First Shepard beat Apple off the line of scrimmage. Then Apple grabbed him as Shepard made a cut to the outside (which would have been a penalty). Then Shepard got a step on Apple on a deep post. Then Shepard bobbled the ball and it landed right in the hands of Apple, who was a stride behind the receiver.
“Eli did a great job of coming up with the football right there,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “I think we [the offense] won early on the route but he made up for it. He had a nice catch-up speed right there and showed nice ball skills at the end.”
It certainly wasn’t a perfect debut for Apple. But the last time the Giants had a first-round pick named Eli, rookie minicamp was no showcase, either. Team president John Mara often recalls feeling sick to his stomach after Eli Manning looked awful in his first rookie minicamp in 2004.
Apple didn’t create quite as much nausea. And despite the one play botched by both of the Giants’ first two picks, McAdoo liked what he saw from them.
“I’ll say this about them, they look like they like football, and that is a great place to start,” McAdoo said. “They are cerebral guys and they didn’t have any trouble lining up or understanding their assignments, so that is a great place to start.”
Notes & quotes: Apple said he has no problem with his mother, Annie Apple, becoming something of a celebrity on social media and through appearances in Sports Illustrated and on ESPN. “If she wants the whole spotlight, she can have it,” he said. McAdoo did offer some advice for the 21st-century dynamic of parents who have a public voice: “My message to anyone on social media is to think twice and hit send once,” he said. “Anyone who wraps their arms around our players, that is important, too.” . . . Apple, Shepard, running back Paul Perkins and tight end Jerell Adams signed their rookie contracts. Shepard said the whole process “took about 10 minutes.” . . . Damarr Aultman of Half Hollow Hills West High School is a tryout at the minicamp and making the transition from wide receiver to cornerback. He and Sewanhaka High’s Schnayder Termidor, a linebacker, are the two Long Islanders trying out at the camp.