Second-year cornerback Corey Ballentine had a rough rookie campaign both on and off the field. Still, after coming through that and having learned numerous lessons, he feels he’s in a better position to contribute more consistently in Year 2.
Ballentine, the Giants' sixth-round draft pick last year, had the start of his rookie season delayed when he was wounded in the buttocks by a random shooting that claimed the life of his best friend and college teammate Dwane Simmons.
And in the first half of the season, Ballentine was limited on defense, seeing just ten defensive snaps in the first eight weeks.
In the second half of the season, he saw an uptick in his defensive snaps, playing 288 snaps on defense, 171 of those in the slot.
But Ballentine, who had never really played the slot in coverage, struggled in that role, allowing four touchdowns in the slot and finishing with a 132.7 rating, worse than the 113.8 rating recorded by Grant Haley, whom Ballentine replaced after the bye last year.
With his rocky rookie season behind him, Ballentine has a fresh start and an opportunity to win a starting job opposite of veteran James Bradberry which developed thanks to the legal issues of DeAndre Baker and the decision to opt-out by Sam Beal.
“I like where I’m at mentally, l like where I’m at physically. I knew kind of what I was getting into this year because I went through last year, so I knew what to expect going into training camp. I prepared myself in the offseason for that. I’m really just prepared to take whatever is thrown at me,” Ballentine said.
“I know we have a whole new coaching staff so there’s challenges there. Getting to know them, getting to know their play styles and their call styles and how they want us to operate as a team and as players and our technique and things like that. I’m just learning and going with the flow and really trying to do the best I can. I’m comfortable, I feel like I am thinking a little bit less. I’m just going out there and playing which is good for me. I’m enjoying myself.”
Despite his struggles in the slot last year, Ballentine said he’s still willing to give it a go if that’s where the coaches want him to play.
“I don’t mind playing inside either (slot or perimeter). As long as I’m on the field, I don’t think it really matters,” he said. “I’m glad to have the opportunity to be out there. I do like playing outside. I feel like I can be a little more aggressive, being outside. I can play inside as well, it’s not really a big deal. I feel like I can do both things, which is a good thing on my end.”
To that end, Ballentine praised defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s defense, which the former Washburn defender said fits his skill set well.
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“I think he’s an aggressive coordinator and he likes to be aggressive at times. I like to be aggressive at times, so I think it fits well,” he said.
“He lets me go out there and play and really just react to whatever is going on so I can use my athletic ability and not overthink too many things. I’m definitely enjoying myself this year.”
Ballentine is part of a young group of cornerbacks who have been competing hard in camp so far and whom head coach Joe Judge said is a group that's improving every day.
"We’ve seen daily improvement. It travels over from the individual drills to the competitive releases to the one on one drills to the group pass and seven on seven, and then on to the team full 11 on 11 drills. You see it on a daily basis that they’re improving," Judge said
"Listen, they’re young. They’re learning the speed of the game, they’re learning how to handle multiples. There are going to be things every day that are new to them. It’s not that they make mistakes, it’s that they can’t repeat mistakes. That’s our goal as coaches, to get them out there, make sure they learn from their own experiences and from the other experiences from their teammates so they don’t have to have a mistake as well. But I like the way they’re working."
Ballentine has also enjoyed getting to know his teammates, particularly those in the defensive secondary where communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is essential to the group’s success.
“I feel like we have a good group. We’re getting close, we are getting to know each other,” Ballentine said, noting that the defensive backs have a group text going where they bounce questions and ideas off of one another. “We’re trying to build that bond so we can go out there and play free.
“Training camp is training camp, it’s where you are supposed to make mistakes and correct them. That’s what we’re trying to do now.”
That communication should help the Giants defensive secondary, which last year seemed to have one too many communication breakdowns at the worst possible times, play faster and more efficiently as they continue to grow comfortable in Graham’s defensive system.
“Everyone has those bumps and bruises when you are introduced to something new,” Ballentine said.
“We’re just taking it day by day, going with the flow and trying to correct mistakes when they happen. Really just trying to get ready for Pittsburgh so we can go out there and be clean, be crisp and everyone be where they are supposed to be. Just play and not think too much. Go out there and have fun with each other.”