Rookie defensive end Niko Lalos’s NFL debut had a sort of Cinderella type of feel to it last week.
Lalos got the call a couple of days before he was officially activated from the practice that he was going to the ball.
“It was very exciting--definitely like a long time coming,” Lalos said. “Something you always dream about getting the opportunity to do is stay in the NFL. So I kind of just went in that mindset of trying to make the most of it. And I was pretty fortunate and lucky for how it played out.”
How it played out was a classic scenario that left some who didn’t even know that the 6-foot-5, 269-pound Dartmouth product was on the team asking, “Who was that guy?”
Last week in his NFL debut, he ended up getting nine snaps on defense after outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell left the game due to a calf injury. In those nine snaps, Lalos recorded one pressure, had an interception, and was the catalyst in separating tight end Drew Sample from the ball by tugging at his right arm, which allowed for teammate Logan Ryan to finish the forced fumble and recover it.
“I look up to Logan and he's definitely one of like the older guys I'd like to kind of model my work off of my playing style and attitude,” said Lalos of that play. “So it was cool that I was kind of able to assist him, even though I think he did most of, not all the work.”
But make no mistake, Lalos has done a lot of work himself to create further intrigue among the coaches.
He has worked with both the defensive line and outside linebackers, the latter a position where senior defensive assistant Bret Bielema marveled over how well Lalos did on the weekly tests he gives to his players despite the youngster’s bouncing back and forth between classrooms.
And he was among the three practice squad/scout team players recognized by the coaching staff for their contributions in helping the team to its third straight win last week.
As such, Lalos got to wear the jersey of Ring of Honor member Brad Van Pelt, a Giants Pro Bowl linebacker who was with the team from 1973-83.
“Here is the easiest thing and it’s simple,” said defensive coordinator Patrick Graham when asked about Lalos’s development. “He paid attention when Joe went through the first meeting. The more you can do, the better off you will be. It’s not a surprise. He’s around here because he listened to what the head coach told him.”
And that was?
“The head coach said the more you can do the better off you’ll be,” Graham said.
“I thought it was all very important, especially being an undrafted guy,” Lalos said. “The more you can do, the more value you bring. So I wanted to make sure I kind of took that to heart and did whatever was asked of me and tried to exemplify my versatility and in hopes that would keep me around and get me through the day and allowed me to play the game of football.”
After the game, the clock struck midnight for Lalos, who reverted to the practice squad. But with Fackrell having been placed on injured reserve, the Giants already thin outside linebacker group that is also missing Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter will undoubtedly be looking for reinforcement again this weekend.
This time, Lalos could end up sticking around beyond the midnight hour if his number is called.
“I don't know,” he said when asked how he could top his NFL debut if he is brought back to the 53-man roster. “Just hopefully prepare the same way I did for that game—put myself in the right position and hopefully gives me another opportunity to make another play and it works out in our favor.”
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