Fullback learning role, history in NFL
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - As an undrafted, rookie free-agent fullback, Henry Hynoski is not presumptuous enough to say his ship has come in, so far as securing a roster spot with the New York Football Giants.
Still, there is no need for Hynoski to pinch himself to know the situation he finds himself is for real.
All signs point to the Giants' coaching staff having a place for the 6-foot, 1-inch, 266 pounds former University of Pittsburgh and Southern Columbia standout in their plans and hearts.
Hynoski is the latest, and a prototype at that, in a long line of grunts that have played the position, doing the dirty work for the glamour backs of this cornerstone National Football League franchise.
Dating back to the championships of the 1950s, when the now famous league-wide chant of "dee-fense" was heard for the first time from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium, through the Super Bowl-winning years in Giants Stadium to the present day, playing fullback for the Giants requires checking one's ego at the player's entrance.
Just as those who have gone before him whose No. 1 responsibility was to open holes for the likes of running backs Frank Gifford and Joe Morris and protect the likes of quarterbacks Y.A. Tittle and Phil Simms, Hynsoki's job is to block for running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw and protect quarterback Eli Manning.
Hynoski and the Giants made their home debut in the soon-to-be-named MetLife Stadium this week on Monday Night Football against yet another of the league's flagship franchises, the Chicago Bears. Following the 41-13 victory, he reflected on the whirlwind the past eight weeks have been in his ongoing maturation as he grows into the position.
"It hit me the very first day when I reported and was told I was to report to Eli's group," Hynoski said. "That when I thought, 'Wow, I'm going to be in the huddle with a Super Bowl MVP,' but you can't dwell on that because you've got a job to do.
"It doesn't take you long to realize this is a special franchise and what it means to the history of the league. Considering everything, I really feel fortunate to be here and couldn't be happier with the way things worked out."
Of course, "everything" was being an undrafted free agent after being projected by some scouting services to be the No. 1 fullback in the NFL draft.
Most of the TV talking heads were projecting Hynoski to be taken - depending on "need" - perhaps as early as the fifth round, but no later than the seventh. Those projections turned out to be nothing more than rhetoric, as teams were apparently unwilling to use a pick on a fullback who was unable to walk the walk on his pro day because of an injured hamstring.
What followed, because of the contract issues between the owners and players, was months of doubt for Hynoski until a 12th-hour settlement.
Then, the phone - no, make that phones - started ringing and ringing and ringing.
When the Giants were among the teams that were calling, it was an easy decision for Hynoski. It turned out they have always been among the favorites in family, and rooting interest aside, he was smart enough to know his style fit the tradition of a franchise that has built its success on aggressive defense and conservative offense.
Hynoski was in the backfield for three plays in the first half of Monday's game, including one with the first unit. Then, beginning with the first offensive series of the second half, his blocking played key roles on scoring drives that opened the lead to 27-6 and then 34-6.
On Hynoski's first play of the half, he put himself in position for what would have been his only touch of the game when he sprinted out of the backfield on a circle route.
When he looked for the ball, however, quarterback David Carr had already completed a 9-yard pass to Victor Cruz.
"David told me to get out fast, but Victor was open and I was actually the second option on the play," Hynoski said. "I was really amped and ready to go because the coaches told me I'd be in there to start the half.
"These past eight weeks have been such a learning experience, and mostly what I've learned is that low man wins. Believe it or not, there were times even at Pitt where I was able to just overpower guys, but in this league you don't overpower people, so you better learn proper blocking technique.
"My job is to put people on the ground, and it felt good tonight to get a few pancakes. Best of all, sitting on the bench and talking with (running backs) Coach (Jared) Ingram during the last couple of minutes, he was able to tell me right then what he liked and what I needed to do better."
It is Hynoski's drive and determination to do better and secure a spot on the Giants that has already drawn the attention and appreciation of the coaches and his teammates.
Based on the reaction of the fans, who measure their loyalty by the decades they have bought out the games with season tickets, they have also embraced the toughness that has endeared their fullbacks to them - even in the toughest of times.