It's been a disappointing rookie season for Giants safety Xavier McKinney, who has spent the year on injured reserve rehabbing from a broken foot.
Although McKinney hasn't contributed much to his teammates' cause on the field since suffering his foot injury during training camp on August 27, his high football IQ hasn't wasted away while he waits to make his NFL debut.
Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson has kept McKinney involved in regular game preparation.
"He's in the meetings every day and going through all the prep that the guys are going through," Henderson said. "Taking tests, having study projects, and things of that nature. I think just being around it keeps him locked in."
McKinney, the team's second-round pick out of Alabama in this year's draft, was praised for his athleticism, versatility, and instincts, traits that the Giants are looking forward to one day soon unleashing against opponents.
"When he was available to use before he got hurt, you saw he was a guy that had some natural instincts you just can't coach," Henderson said.
"When he got hurt it kind of took the air out of his sails obviously, it was the first time in his football career that something like this happened."
However, McKinney was also recognized for his football IQ, as Alabama head coach Nick Saban entrusted him to regularly carry out a different set of roles every week, which required good study habits and preparation.
The Giants were able to see plenty of McKinney's physical attributes during training camp. But since the injury, they've only been able to observe his work ethic in off-the-field preparation, which has been equally impressive, according to Henderson.
"Standing up in front of the room, I'm often talking to guys and I see his eyes are locked in, always hungry for information," Henderson said. "I'm excited for him when he does get his [opportunity] to actually put some of that information to use."
McKinney's "homework" of sorts during his rehab includes scouting opponents that he won't even be playing.
This practice not only gets the rookie in the groove of assessing NFL offenses it also is preparing him for game planning by making him think and approach the more complex NFL game with a coach's eye.
"One of the things he may have to do is give us a report on the quarterback," Henderson said.
"So he has to go study the quarterback, the mannerisms, like strengths, weaknesses, any tells we can get from him, go watch the touchdown copies, and see if there's anything we can pick up there that we can take into the game week.
"Or it could be studying the tight end. How does he beat man coverage? What does he do versus zone coverage? What routes does he run? What does he struggle with on the line of scrimmage? What are his blocking mannerisms? Any tells that he might have that will help us play."
Earlier this week, head coach Joe Judge spoke of hopefully getting McKinney back sooner than later. No such decision has been made, as the safety is potentially looking at another few weeks of rehab before he can thoroughly test his surgically repaired foot.
But when that time comes to where McKinney is ready to return to action, the expectation is that he should be able to step in as though he's never been away.