Giants’ Patrick Graham starts to get some head-coach buzz

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There is plenty going on with the Giants, embroiled in a tight race to maintain first place in the suddenly ferocious (hyperbole alert) NFC East.

Here are a few items to ponder:

— Patrick Graham has done a phenomenal job this season. A defense not exactly teeming with star power is ninth in the NFL in scoring defense and No. 4 in run defense. All this, with only one player (Leonard Williams, 2016) with a single Pro Bowl invite. So, of course, just like that, Graham’s name is suddenly bandied about as a potential head coach candidate. Why? Just because his defensive schemes are wonderful? The league is littered with hot-shot coordinators with fancy schemes that enticed owners to hire them, only to find they were truly gifted in only one thing: Operating an offense or defense.

Joe Judge was a nondescript special teams coordinator and he did not get the Giants job based on that. He got it by wowing ownership and the front office with his smarts and leadership traits. Mike Tomlin was a defensive coordinator for only one year when the Steelers shocked the NFL by making him their head coach at the age of 34. They saw him as a leader of men and that vision proved to be 20-20.

This is no knock on the 41-year-old Graham. He clearly has high-level intelligence — Yale grad — and a self-effacing, humble and charming personality has emerged. His players are in lockstep with him — safety Logan Ryan on WFAN on Tuesday called Graham “the black Picasso.’’

Take a look at Todd Bowles. When the Buccaneers were rolling, of course Bowles’ name surfaced as a guy who should get another chance. Why? He is extremely well-liked and we all know he can orchestrate a top-notch defense. What did he do with the Jets to prove he is suited to run the entire show? Take a look at Pat Shurmur. He ran superb offenses and that got him head coaching jobs with the Browns and Giants. He is best-suited as a coordinator.

Maybe Graham gets a shot as a head coach and is a natural. If so, it will be because of his ability to organize, direct and lead and not because he can call a defense.

—  So, Andrew Thomas is actually good?

We thought we heard something about terrible early season struggles that confirmed the Giants blew this one, that Thomas as the No. 4-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft was on the train to Bustville.

Yes, Thomas was supposed to be the most “NFL ready’’ in this rookie offensive line group and no, he was not as advertised in the opening weeks. Thomas has turned the corner, though, and the Giants are thrilled. Thomas has not allowed a pressure in the past two games and Pro Football Focus graded him as the best rookie offensive lineman in Week 13. It could very well be that Thomas, Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs and Mekhi Becton — the four stud first-round tackles — turn out to be a tremendous rookie class.

— Maybe Ole Miss beating Mississippi State 31-24 in this year’s Egg Bowl is the impetus for a winning Giants late-season surge. Well, that might be a stretch, but seeing Judge (Mississippi State) wearing an Ole Miss bucket hat and hoodie during a Zoom media session and seeing tight end Evan Enram busting in to exclaim “Hotty Toddy!’’ (a traditional Ole Miss greeting) was amusing, and revealing.

First, that Judge would make a bet with one of his players, lose the bet and pay off the bet in such an open manner, feigning distain. Second, that Engram felt comfortable enough to make a playful public dig at his ultra-serious head coach. Judge showed his players a side of himself when he rolled around the mud, getting water sprayed at him, diving on a loose ball in training camp. Wearing the colors of his bitter college rival showed that side once again. For those who got all hot and bothered this past summer and labeled Judge a Belichick wannabe after he had his players run Lesson Laps and do some live hitting — don’t you feel silly now?

— Losing begot winning. It is strange, but true, with the Giants.

This current four-game winning streak was born out of the 0-5 start and the 1-7 midseason record. It is tough for a rookie head coach to start out with so much failure. Players watched and waited, seeing how Judge reacted. Would he blame them? Criticize individuals in the media? Show signs of panic or make changes for the sake of change? So much can be gleaned out of losing.

“This has been a fun season and I think the beginning of the season is when the team and the guys and the coaches prove to each other what type of team we really have,’’ Williams said. “It’s easier to be happy and see the good things when you’re winning, but I feel like we all see the good things in each other and what we have, even when we were losing. That just helped continue to build our confidence in each other and build on what we have working here. Eventually, it turns into a snowball and it keeps building up. I feel like we have a real culture here now and I love the way this team is going.’’

— Two weeks ago in Cincinnati, at long last, prize rookie Xavier McKinney embarked on his NFL career, sprinkled in for five snaps on defense and nine on special teams. The easing-in was no surprise, as he is coming off foot surgery. In Seattle, the workload did not increase — six snaps on defense, five on special teams — and that was a bit of a bummer.

It makes sense to bring McKinney along slowly. The Giants have a good thing going in their secondary, and their starting safeties, Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan, are playing lights out. McKinney figures to steal time from Julian Love, who played 44 of the 72 defensive snaps against the Seahawks (and dropped what would have been a game-sealing interception).

“You know, you’ve got that fine line, quite frankly, because those guys that we’re playing are playing well, you don’t want to upset that, but then you definitely want to get him on the field,’’ defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said. “So, Pat [Graham] has been thinking in his master way of coming up with some packages to include him, to have all of those guys on the field together. We’ll just look to continue to ramp him up and get him a little more exposure each game, hopefully.’’

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