For a fifth-round pick, a lot of hype has followed Devon Kennard to Giants camp. Just about everyone you ask lists the linebacker out of USC as one of the sleepers of this entire draft, a guy who — despite a checkered injury history — has the athleticism and versatility to become an impact player right away. But for now, Kennard isn't letting himself think like that.
"I'm just trying to learn the defense and earn my teammates' respect and the coaching staff's respect," Kennard said. "I'm ready to do whatever the team needs so we can win."
For the multi-talented Kennard, "whatever the team needs" could mean a lot of things. His career at SC was all over the place — one year he played the SAM, next year he slid to the middle, and the next year coaches had him put his hand in the ground and rush the passer. He's confident he can do any one of those things at the next level, but it's going to take time to determine exactly where he fits.
"I think a lot of teams saw me as a dual guy and liked [that] they could play me in either spot," he said. "Right now [Giants coaches] have me concentrating on middle linebacker, but they also want to make sure I know the SAM as well."
All that moving around could be overwhelming for a rookie, but – unlike his offensive counterparts, breaking in a new playbook — Kennard enters a stable situation with Perry Fewell back at coordinator and veterans like John Beason and Spencer Paysinger. So for now, he's just trying to be a sponge.
"You've got some veterans in the locker room who really know what they're doing," he said. "I've been clinging to those guys early on and learning from them and watching them, seeing how they do things. It's just the little parts of the game that give them the edge. I think it benefits me a lot."
Another one of the Giants' many high-character draft picks — he was a team captain in college, with the team's highest GPA — the only question seems to be if he can remain healthy. Kennard blew out his knee in high school, then lost his entire junior year of college after tweaking it again. He's got plenty of support, though, and a lot of opportunity for playing time.
"I feel like I can play with the best," he said. "But I'm here to do whatever the coaching staff wants me to do, whatever they see for me."