EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The fall has come fast for Eli Apple, from first-round draft pick loaded with potential, to a suddenly troubled NFL player in the midst of a turbulent year. He's been benched, declared inactive, shunned by some teammates. He's had to deal with his mother's health crisis, and a slew of injuries of his own.
Now the 22-year-old cornerback has been inactive for four straight games, despite his insistence that he's healthy enough to play. And it took him less than a week to draw the ire of interim Giants coach Steve Spagnuolo, when Apple was caught Tweeting in the middle of Sunday's game.
If it seems like Apple is at the crossroads of his career far earlier than expected, that's because he probably is. He could continue down this path until the Giants have had enough of his behavior.
Or, as veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has tried to tell him, there's a better way to go.
"It's got to be tough man, just on and off the field," Rodgers-Cromartie said on Monday. "Being a young guy it's kind of hard to deal with those things if you don't have someone you can lean on in the locker room. That's why I always try to talk to him and to let him know, 'Man, I been there where you been, trust me. You ain't seen nobody do it my way.' And I try to tell him that, from the standpoint of doing things the wrong way. I don't want to see him go down that path."
Apple has been on the wrong path since Week 5 when he was benched for three series against the Los Angeles Chargers. Though then-coach Ben McAdoo never acknowledged it publicly, a team source confirmed he was benched for his behavior during practice. His behavior during that game was in question too when he reportedly yelled on the sideline at a member of the Giants' front office.
After that game, when asked about his punishment, he complained about the "culture" of the team.
Things quieted down after that as Apple started for four straight games until he took a few days off from practice before the Week 11 game against the Chiefs because his mother was undergoing brain surgery. Oddly, though, he didn't start the next week either, on Thanksgiving night in Washington, despite returning to practice. McAdoo's weak explanation was that he didn't get enough practice time with the short week.
But Apple didn't start in Oakland the following week either. Or Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. He suddenly appeared on the injury report the last two weeks with hip and back injuries, though Apple kept insisting he was fine and ready to go.
So what's the truth? Spagnuolo said Apple sat on Sunday because "He didn't get enough reps during the week" because of his injuries. But it sure seems like discipline has had a lot to do with his four-game absence, too.
"Well, I guess that's true," Spagnuolo said. "Some of it has been injury. Look, you all know he went through a struggle personally. Sometimes it takes a little while to recover from that. I'm not using that as an excuse. But he's got to step up, show his teammates and coaches that he's ready. I believe that he wants to and is going to do that. We just need to see him do it."
Spagnuolo said he "hopes" that will happen this week. He told that to Apple on Sunday morning when they had a private conversation about why he wouldn't play in the Cowboys game.
Of course, hours later Apple was breaking NFL rules by Tweeting during the game - and angering some of his teammates by retweeting a link to video of Cowboys running back Rod Smith's 81-yard touchdown run against the Giants. Smith and Apple were teammates at Ohio State.
"Yeah, I heard about that," Spagnuolo said. "I had a conversation with Eli about that. I was disappointed. I told him I was disappointed. We'll decide exactly what we'll do with it. It was disappointing. He apologized. And we move on from it."
It remains to be seen if Apple's teammates can, though. When DRC was told about the Tweet, he shook his head and said "That's a tough one." And the truth is, Apple's weird behavior this season has already bothered some in the Giants locker room.
"I can't speak for other guys. He's cool with me, because I understand. I used to be that guy," DRC said. "But it's a profession and you have guys in here that it's strictly about their business, so if it seems like a guy's not doing what he's asked to do, it can kind of rub them the wrong way."
So, does DRC worry about Apple?
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no …. Sometimes," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "For the most part, man, I know he'll get it because I know he loves football. I can hear it in his voice when he talks. I know he'll hone in at some point."
"I'm hopeful and optimistic we can get him going," Spagnuolo added. "I am disappointed in the Tweeting thing, but hopefully we can get over these hurdles."