Giants rookie Darnay Holmes facing unprecedented pressure

There is no need for Darnay Holmes to explain what it’s like to be a rookie cornerback in the NFL.

He can just point to the film of one play in the Giants’ intrasquad scrimmage Friday to show anyone interested.

Holmes’ tight man-to-man coverage on veteran receiver Golden Tate produced an interception, but, in his excitement, he forgot to secure the ball on the return and Andrew Thomas punched it loose for a fumble.

Some good. Some bad. But a mixed bag qualifies as promising for an undermanned Giants secondary right now.

“Darnay has done a good job of really learning the speed of the game and adjusting fast,” coach Joe Judge said. “He’s a guy that can apply the lessons not only from his own mistakes but from watching other people.”

Holmes is carrying outside expectations that defy logic.

As a general rookie rule, first-rounders are expected to make a difference, second-rounders to start, mid-rounders to contribute and late-rounders to make the roster. The fourth-rounder Holmes initially was expected to compete for snaps in the slot and deepen an already young rotation.

Then DeAndre Baker was arrested and put on the Commissioner’s Exempt List and Sam Beal opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, prompting fans to pin a disproportionate amount of hope for improving one of the NFL’s worst coverage units on Holmes. How is the UCLA product managing the added pressure?

Darnay Holmes intercepts a pass during Friday's Giants practice.
Darnay Holmes intercepts a pass during Friday’s Giants practice.AP

“Really just slowing things down,” Holmes said. “Having the understanding that certain shifts and certain things that the offense is doing are not in my control. Just [keeping] an even-keel mind — a mind that’s really just being still and at peace with everything that’s going on around me.”

A similar situation happened last year when sixth-round rookie Corey Ballentine was forced up the depth chart, overexposed too soon and lost confidence. Ballentine is projected as an outside starter alongside James Bradberry this season, with Holmes in the nickel unless the Giants go with three safeties based on matchups.

Holmes isn’t going to be easily rattled.

“Unwavering faith and belief in myself and the scheme that I’m being surrounded by,” Holmes said. “It’s not a battle of flesh and blood, but it’s really a battle between your ears, which is your mental state. Going up there with the utmost confidence and focused approach about the task at hand.”

Giants safety Jabrill Peppers took Holmes under his wing after the draft, which shouldn’t be a surprise given both are defined by athleticism and energy. They trained together with DBacks Academy in northern New Jersey.

“He’s a real competitive guy that comes to work every day with a full head of steam,” Judge said. “He’s very attentive. I’m not surprised to see him improve day-by-day.”

The Giants have ranked in the bottom-three in passing yards allowed in two of the last three seasons and cut their truest ballhawk, Janoris Jenkins, in December. Holmes’ interception suggests maybe he can make plays.

“I had disciplined eyes and disciplined technique,” Holmes said. “Being taught proper fundamentals, the plays will come to you.”

Judge was eager to use the interception-turned-fumble as a teaching point: The play isn’t over until the whistle blows. Teammates quickly forgive high-effort mistakes.

“The biggest thing that’s jumped out to me is he asks a lot of questions,” Bradberry said. “He wants to learn a whole lot, and that’s what you’re supposed to do as a rookie. I’m just enjoying him being very impressionable. I’m able to [have] an effect on him, and that’s my goal.”

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