Gary Brightwell Can Be Something "Special" for New York Giants

Giants sixth-round draft pick Gary Brightwell's ticket to a roster spot is going to be special teams.
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It takes a special kind of athlete to deliver on special teams.

Smart, aggressive, fast, fearless--these are just some of the numerous qualities that make for a good special teams performer, according to New York Giants head coach (and former NFL special teams coordinator) Joe Judge.

"I think a lot of things we talk about when you talk about special teams players are more intangibles, sense of urgency, physicality, guys that really play with a heightened sense of intensity on field," he said Saturday after the Giants concluded on-field practices for their weekend rookie minicamp.

"At the end of the day, the intangibles we look for in common for every player on special teams is speed, you know, and really speed is the biggest difference."

Enter sixth-round pick Gary Brightwell, a running back by trade who also contributed to special teams at the University of Arizona. 

Per Pro Football Focus, Brightwell logged eight combined tackles on special teams (seven solo) in 205 combined (punt and kickoff) coverage snaps.

Brightwell's speed and tenacity for playing special teams is a big reason why he caught the eye of the Giants coaches.

"(Assistant Special Teams Coach) Tom Quinn, (special teams coordinator) Thomas McGaughey and I were sitting in the staff room on a Saturday about 5:30 in the morning and Tom brought his name up. We watched his kick game and this dude was flying down the field," Judge said of Brightwell.

"He's a guy that jumps out from his skill set. You are always looking for good versatility and depth at those positions, running back and the kicking game."

The Giants can certainly use those special qualities that Brightwell seems to have for their special teams units, particularly on coverage, where their overall performance took a wrong turn in the league rankings last season.

Per Rick Gosselin's annual rankings, the Giants special teams finished tied with Kansas City for 19th in the league.

According to league rankings, the Giants' coverage units in particular lacked luster, finishing 26th in kickoff return yardage and 22nd in opponents' punt return yardage, down from third and 13th respectively the season prior.

"I think Gary has enough traits to work with and build with," Judge said of Brightwell, who also returned five kickoffs for 86 yards (17.2 average) during his college career.

"He's a long way from some of the top players in the last few decades and there's a reason those guys have made a living out of it and won a lot of games and been successful."

While some rookies might be disappointed if they don't get a significant opportunity to impress at their natural position, Brightwell is a realist.


He's no doubt aware of his place in the running back room's depth chart, where he's behind projected starter Saquon Barkley and veteran backups Devontae Booker and the newly signed Corey Clemente.

That's why Brightwell is looking at the bigger picture as he seeks to carve out a spot on the Giants 53-man roster.

"My role here is just basically being a football player, just like any other football player," Brightwell said of his expectations.

"You've got to earn your spot. It's not just given to you. I'm just going to be working on myself day-by-day," he said.

Judge isn't making any promises regarding a roster spot for Brightwell or any other player for that matter except to offer a chance to compete.

"There's things you see from Gary as a running back and you saw on his tape in college covering kicks that we are giving him the opportunity to come and compete," Judge said.

"But he definitely has the speed and the size to factor in and go out there and give himself an opportunity. Now at this point it's just an opportunity. We'll see what he does with it and it's up to him and go ahead and carry the coaching to the field, and it's up to us as coaches to put him in the right position to be successful."

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