One of the scouting knocks on Darrian Beavers can be twisted into the very skill that makes the rookie middle linebacker a future candidate to run the Giants defense.
To think like a safety, Beavers lets his mind wander back to high school football. To think like a slot back, a defensive end or a pass-rushing outside linebacker, Beavers draws on the experience he gained playing all those positions at Connecticut and Cincinnati.
Add it all up and suddenly a draft prospect criticized for lacking a true position is reimagined as a defensive signal-caller who knows all of his teammates’ assignments. Beavers got his first opportunity to show the Giants what he can do Thursday when he was an injury-replacement starter, made three tackles (one for loss) and wore the headset connected to coordinator Wink Martindale for the second-team defense during the second quarter of the Giants’ 23-21 win against the New England Patriots in the preseason opener.
“I like that challenge where I have to tell everybody else the call,” Beavers said. “It keeps me locked in throughout the practice where I’m not just daydreaming. Even when I’m on the sidelines, people are asking me, ‘What’s the call?’ I think that’s good for me.”
Beavers was one of six finalists last season for the Butkus Award, given to the top linebacker in college football. The other five — including one expected to miss most of the 2022 season — were drafted higher than Beavers (No. 182 overall in the sixth round). Extra fuel on the fire?
“What you like about being a rookie is you have something to prove. It motivates you every day,” Beavers said. “This is my dream. I wanted to get drafted. That was the goal, that’s what happened. Everyone’s dream is to be the first [at his position] off the board, but I wanted to have an opportunity to prove myself, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The intentionally slow reintegration of tackling machine Blake Martinez into practice after last season’s torn ACL has given ample opportunity to Beavers. Safety Xavier McKinney is calling signals with the starting defense, but Martinez could resume the role he previously held once he is fully involved. Beavers is Martinez’s understudy.
“He’s shown up on tape,” Martinez said. “Just [needs to] keep improving on seeing things for the first time and understanding how to play against bigger offensive linemen and things like that.”
Playing inside linebacker in a system borrowed from the Ravens — home of Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, C.J. Mosley and others — is no small responsibility.
“You can’t not study,” Beavers said. “One of the biggest things is you actually have to know what you are doing. If you see something wrong, you have to tell the D-line or the safeties or the corners how to align. We have to be able to cover in the pass, be able to blitz and be able to stuff the run. You have to be good at a little bit of everything when you play for Wink.”
Fellow rookie Micah McFadden is in the same boat as Beavers, backing up other inside starter Tae Crowder.
“It’s one of the toughest positions to play coming in,” Martindale said. “They’ve accepted the challenge and accepted me. That’s a position I’ve coached in this league forever, so I’m the toughest [critic].”
Beavers fit a run gap and delivered a loud pop at the goal line during Sunday’s practice. It set the tone for a physical week.
“Every day you start becoming more free,” Beavers said. “You start to know more stuff. You get better and better at learning the plays and the speed of the game. You become more intuitive with the play calls and why Wink wants this play in this certain situation.”
A sturdy and chiseled 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Beavers looks more the part of an edge rusher. It’s possible he could be asked to move around the scheme in an “open” competition for sub-package roles so he can be on the field once the regular season begins.
“I’m comfortable playing different positions,” Beavers said. “When I’m doing different things, it’s not new to me.”
Temptation exists for rookies eager to make an impression and playing in front of an NFL-sized crowd for the first time to get overly aggressive. But Beavers played in plenty of big games at Cincinnati alongside four defensive teammates — including the Jets’ Sauce Gardner — drafted higher than him in April. He understands patience.
“When you go out there for your first time you hope to go crazy and put on a show, but I have to keep my composure and not go all willy-nilly and try to make a bunch of plays,” Beavers said. “For me, it’s to keep my composure, and when the plays come, make them.”