New York Giants Linebacker Jon Beason Is Ready to Lead Again

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New York Giants Linebacker Jon Beason Is Ready to Lead Again
USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants linebacker Jon Beason remembers the first time he set foot into the Giants’ locker room last season.

“I really had no idea what to expect,” he said.

For all that Beason—who had just been acquired by the Giants in a rare in-season trade with the Carolina Panthers on October 4—knew, he was walking into an unsalvageable situation.

The Giants were surprisingly winless at that point, their defense having allowed an alarming average of 36.4 points per game after failing to hold any single opponent in that stretch to fewer than 30 points. 

The questions about what was wrong with the Giants, a team that many people expected to at least be competitive, became endless.

While the existing team leadership somehow managed to keep the team together—barely, or so it seemed from the outside looking in—it wasn’t until Beason walked in the door and got on the field that the team took on a whole new aura.

 

"The employer generally gets the employees he deserves." - J. Paul Getty

Bill Parcells, one of 29 men enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with ties to the Giants organization, presided over some of the best defenses in the franchise’s history.

These were defenses that were rich in linebackers, such as fellow Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor and Pro Bowlers Brad Van Pelt, Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press/Associated Press
Jon Beason would have been a natural fit in the great Giants linebacker units under former head coach Bill Parcells.

“I like linebackers,” Parcells once said. “I collect ’em. You can’t have too many good ones.”

A good linebacker is essential for a defense’s success, and no one knew that better than Parcells, who, before succeeding Ray Perkins as the team’s head coach in 1983, was its defensive coordinator. 

Unfortunately for the Giants, the line of succession at the position seemed to dry up following the careers of Pro Bowlers Jessie Armstead and Antonio Pierce, two of the last Giants linebackers who were part of the team's foundation.

When general manager Jerry Reese was promoted to his current position in 2007, the Giants had their eye on a certain young University of Miami linebacker who had that same swagger as Armstead and Pierce, and whom they envisioned as a possible successor to Pierce.

That linebacker was Beason, a junior-eligible prospect who, per KFFL’s draft preview, was lauded for his leadership and football smarts.

Although the Giants had hosted Beason for a predraft visit, their need for a cornerback led them to take Texas cornerback Aaron Ross at No. 20 overall. 

Five picks later, the Carolina Panthers plucked Beason off the board, making him the third linebacker chosen in the draft after Patrick Willis (San Francisco) and Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh). 

It’s funny how the NFL works sometimes. Players sometimes leave the team that drafts them only to return “home” when they realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Then there are those a team initially covets, but for whom they must wait, sometimes years, to get.

Like Beason.

 

"Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It's about impact, influence and inspiration." - Robin S. Sharma

Once upon a time, Beason, now 29 years old, was one of the league’s most promising young linebackers.

Nicknamed “The Beast” for his unwavering relentlessness on the field, Beason was a team captain for the Hurricanes.

He was an athlete who had that X-factor, as well as an advanced understanding of how he wanted his teammates and the fans to view him.

A diligent worker and an astute observer of his environment, Beason was determined to refine his already-polished skills so that he could put himself on a path toward a long, productive NFL career.

Taking what he already knew worked, he integrated information gathered from observing and interacting with his new NFL teammates, most of whom were older and had enjoyed productive careers.

As he continued to collect and adapt that knowledge to his personal situation, Beason, to use an expression that seems to be a favorite of his, became “scary good” as both a player and as a leader.

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

After a successful rookie campaign in which he was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up (behind Willis), Beason enjoyed a breakout in his second season, a year in which he was not only voted as a Panthers team captain, but he also earned the first of his three Pro Bowl honors from his peers.

“It’s said that leaders are born, but not made, but I think really they’re made,” Beason said, stressing that one’s personal passion for what they do can be infectious to others. 

“I always had a passion for football as a little kid, and I think it kind of elevated my game. When you want to win football games, you’re going to do the things it takes to win those football games.” 

Beason's passion for the game is hard not to notice on the field, where he can be seen flying around with an intensity that really hasn't been seen from a Giants linebacker since Pierce.

Perhaps that's why, to ensure he consistently outworks the man in front of him on Sundays, he commences his offseason training program on Valentine’s Day, a holiday synonymous with "love" and "passion." 

“When you have a passion for something you’re doing,” he said, his smile widening again, “You’re going to lead.”  

"He’s a great leader and a great guy," linebacker Jacquian Williams said. "To me, it’s the way he performs—he’s still fast, he’s still strong, still exciting, and he still loves the game."  

 

"If a window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade." - Tom Peters

No one—not the television networks, the national scribes, or the people within the Quest Diagnostics Training Center where the team is headquartered—saw the Giants’ 0-6 start coming.

As the losses piled up, no one could put a finger on what was at the root of the team’s problems.

Injuries certainly played a part in affecting the cohesiveness. According to a study done by Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News. New York finished the 2013 season with the highest number of games lost by starters due to injury (91).

Performance, though, was just as big of an issue, with one of the most glaring issues from the defensive side, a unit that often times looked disorganized.

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Two soft tissue injuries leading to emergence of others contributed to Beason being phased out in Carolina.

Down in Carolina, meanwhile, Beason's star had begun to fade, through no fault of his own.

Injuries to his Achilles in 2011 and then to his knee in 2012 had begun to take a toll on his ability to do his job at the high level he expected from himself.

While he fought his way back from each injury, the Panthers decided to move on. They added Luke Kuechly in the first round of the 2012 draft and signed former Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn the following offseason.

Beason, who had once been a cornerstone of the Panthers’ defense before injuries started getting in the way, took a career-low 63 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in three games that season.

“In this business, injuries are like being late to work,” Beason said in the Giants-issued announcement to the media that confirmed his acquisition last fall. 

“It’s hard (missing so many games), but you understand that it’s a process and you have to go through it and then once you come to grasps with it that you know you can’t do anything about it.”

Knowing he still had a lot to give to a team, Beason prepared himself for a change of scenery.

“I thought it was probable," he said. "And then when I wasn’t playing that much lately, I said 'I know I have value, I know somewhere else could use me,' and they made it happen.”

His final game as a member of the Panthers came against the team that would later make a rare in-season trade to get him—the first such transaction since October 8, 1986, when running back Ottis Anderson, also a Miami alumnus, was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals.

The price? The Giants' 2014 seventh-round draft pick.

 

"The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves." - Ray Kroc

Although the term “leader” has a clear definition, the concepts that come with the title as far as the execution of the responsibilities are concerned often vary among individuals.

To some, being a leader means to micromanage.

For others, the concept embodies the words of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick” ideology.

George Rose/Getty Images
Like Beason, running back Ottis Anderson, who was also acquired in-season via trade, played his college ball at Miami.

Beason’s definition of being a leader is simple.

“Being a leader, to me, is doing things the right way all the time,” he said. “In this game, people follow guys who make plays. That’s doing your job at a high level.

“If you can do it consistently, your peers, regardless of age or experience, will admire that about you and they’ll follow you.” 

That’s the approach he took when he arrived in New York to a defense that was already captained by longtime Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and safety Antrel Rolle.

“I was extremely nervous,” he said of his first days as a Giant, explaining that while he knew how he wanted to present himself to his new teammates, he was also conscious of trying to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes.

Fortunately, head coach Tom Coughlin, Tuck and Rolle knew all about Beason’s reputation, and they encouraged him to be himself.

“[With me] having a prior relationship with Tuck and, obviously, Antrel from college, they said, ‘Look, man, come in and be you.’ That made me feel really welcomed,” Beason recalled.

“When I got here, just being given the chance to be myself was the first thing that made the transition easier.”

USA TODAY Sports
Beason was credited with 12 tackles in his Giants debut in Week 6 last year.

When it came to the X’s and O’s, Beason quickly grasped the Giants’ playbook, despite not having had the benefit of the offseason or training camp to build that chemistry that is oftentimes underrated yet so important for a player to have with his teammates.

Not surprisingly, he was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 6, against Chicago, where he was credited with 12 tackles.

More importantly, Beason’s presence helped calm a defense that, over its final 11 games, allowed an average of 18.3 points per game and concluded the 2013 season as the league’s eighth-best overall unit. 

Beason himself is quick to deflect taking credit for the Giants’ turnaround, which also included a four-game winning streak that positioned the Giants to make a run for the NFC East lead as late as Week 12.

Although New York lost that critical game against the Dallas Cowboys, it was hard not to notice the effect Beason had on the defense.

That's probably why, according to a report by Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, the Giants focused their efforts on re-signing Beason, an unrestricted free agent, after the 2013 season.

Beason is usually one of the first guys to greet a teammate, offense or defense, after a big play. He never ducks the tough questions, win or lose, always offering a substantial response, even if asked the same questions repeatedly.

He is also generous with his time and advice when it comes to helping younger teammates optimize their talents. 

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

“He came in, he had a voice right away, and he fit in very quickly with the players,” Reese told reporters at his 2013 season-ending press conference. “We think it was a good trade at the time and we still think it was a good trade.”

Not a bad review for a guy who claims he’s still “hesitant” in the Giants’ locker room.

“There are guys here that have been around here a lot longer than I have,” Beason explained, a smile crossing his face.

“Look at (quarterback) Eli (Manning). He’s been here 11 years and has seen the process and how they’ve gotten better. He’s been through the ups and downs here, which I think it makes it easier for guys like that to lead.”

Despite his hesitancy, Beason is smart enough to know he will have his chances to do his part.

“I just want to play at a high level and contribute more so that I’ll feel even more comfortable about coming out and being myself,” he said.

                                                                                                                                                  

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams

If works of fiction have taught us anything, it’s that a leader usually gets to enjoy the rewards that come with the designation. 

In real life, however, there is a lot of pressure that comes with being a team leader—and that’s just fine with Beason. 

“For me, the biggest accolade you can receive is when your peers recognize you as someone of importance,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but I appreciate the pressure. I think I’m better because of it.”

That role he’s referencing is that of an official team captain, a designation that could very well be in his future when the Giants hold their annual leadership vote next month.

USA TODAY Sports

Beason, though, isn’t sure he’ll get the “C” patch on his jersey when that vote is taken.

“If I’m not, I’ll understand, just based on the timing,” he said, referencing his being on the PUP list while his teammates go through the grind of training camp.

“When we talk about earning it, right now I’m not in the fire with them, and that’s what burns me more than anything,” he said.

Although Beason is determined to be back for the season-opener on September 8—his goal is to be on the field for every defensive snap the Giants play—if he’s not voted as a captain, he’ll support whoever is.

“[Although] the patch means everything because you know you’ve earned it and it’s given to you by your peers, we’re all in this together,” he said.

“If I’m not (elected), I’ll understand why not, but me personally, I’m still going to go about my business the same way,” he added.

“I’m still going to demand it from myself first and then demand it from others, and then try to bring guys along with me. We are all leaders, no matter what your specific role—big or small. Do your role, do it consistently.

“If you can elevate a couple of guys to play higher at a higher level consistently, then you have a great chance to be great collectively.”

 

All quotes obtained firsthand. All quotes on leadership sourced from Brainy Quote. Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina

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