Giants OLB Devon Kennard has had high hopes pinned on him ever since the club selected him in the fifth round out of USC in the 2014 NFL Draft. His first two seasons were cut short by injuries and he is determined to not only play an entire season, but to become the leader of the Giants' newly revamped defense.
Kennard's healthy presence has pushed him to the rear of the Giants' defensive storylines this summer, with a tight middle linebacker competition and the emergence of WLB Jonathan Casillas as a force on the defense.
"I'm fine with that," Kennard told reporters on Tuesday when asked about flying under the radar. "I'm just focused on getting better every day and how I can contribute and help the team once the season starts."
He can contribute primarily by taking the reins as a defensive captain, who head coach Ben McAdoo will name once the 53-man roster is cut on Saturday afternoon. But the humbled son of an NFL offensive lineman is not focusing on himself at this point but rather the team itself.
"I think we're just getting closer," said Kennard of the team's disposition as the regular season inches closer. "You're seeing a group of guys bonding more than we have since I've been here and having a good time together. It was a long practice, and hard, but when you're putting that work in and grinding and pushing each other, I think we're starting to gel as a team more and more."
With nearly two dozen personnel decisions on the near horizon, Kennard knows he will be saying goodbye to some players who have given their all for Big Blue this summer. He feels for them but its part of the business of pro football.
"It's not something we necessarily talk about," he said. "For me, this is the worst week of the NFL, it's hard seeing guys go home, good players go home and their dreams be stripped away from them. It's hard to witness and be a part of, and just pray for those guys whenever it happens and maybe some of them will get other opportunities."
The fourth preseason game is usually a game dominated by the back end of the roster. The Giants aren't expected to expose any of their core players against the Patriots and Kennard will likely see few reps, if any. He still sees value in the game, however, as it will determine who fills the final roster spots.
"We just want to continue to build on what we've been doing and getting better," he said. "It's still just preseason, it's early in the process of things and we want to get better every week."
The Giants' first team defense has looked like a much-improved unit this summer and since there are so many new faces, Kennard explained that they have yet to roll out a more ambitious game plan if favor of getting the basics straightened out first.
"Just our cornerstone defenses that we're going to run to some extent every week," he said when asked waht was working well at the moment. "I think those are some of the things that we've done and we've done well. If you don't have that, then you don't have anything. So the fact that we've been able to have some success doing what we've got to, to make sure we do it week-in and week-out, I think that's a good thing."
The offense, which has struggled the entire preseason, has been the talk of the town these days. Kennard doesn't believe they will struggle for much longer.
"They've got a lot of explosive players," he said. "They've got talent all over the field, so I think it's going to be a problem [for opponents] as they continue to gel and figure things out."