EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When Jon Halapio joined the New York Giants’ practice squad in 2016, Brett Jones was one of the first guys to welcome him.
Jones had joined the Giants the previous year as a center in trying to make the jump from the CFL to the NFL, and he appreciated when some new teammates made him feel welcome.
Why not do the same for Halapio? The two 27-year-old offensive linemen became real good friends and helped each other become better players.
Halapio, a guard at the University of Florida, taught Jones some trade secrets at the spot and Jones taught his buddy how to snap and play center.
A little less than two years later, Jones is fighting to keep the starting center job he manned the final 12 games of last season. And it’s Halapio, who is the main competition.
Not only is he the competition, Halapio has been getting most of the first-team snaps in the lineup being put on the field by new coach Pat Shurmur.
Jones isn’t worried. It’s early in training camp and nothing is set. He also has no regrets about teaching the guy who might take his job.
“It’s always been like that in my life,” Jones said Monday. “If anybody ever gave me an opportunity I wanted to repay it to them. So that was my thing. Jon was on the practice squad and I was the backup center and if Jon was going to play I wanted to help him out and do what I could. That’s what a good teammate does.”
Learning to snap was part of the mentoring.
“He had asked me and I sort of gave him the basic training for it,” said Jones, who was the CFL’s most outstanding lineman in 2014 and missed his first season in the NFL the following year because of a training camp injury. “After practice we would stay and practice snapping. It sort of went from there.”
Halapio took the long road to the NFL. He was drafted in the sixth round by New England in 2014. He was on the Broncos’ practice squad that season and went to the Cardinals and Patriots training camps in 2015 and ’16, respectively, getting cut each time.
The Giants signed him to the practice squad for most of 2016. He was cut in training camp the following season and re-signed to the practice squad. Injuries got him on the active roster in October and he played in 10 games with six starts at guard.
The move to center came this year.
“Everything was new so I had to learn a lot, not only the schemes, but the different techniques and calls,” Halapio said. “I had to learn a lot.”
The biggest differences are blocking from a balanced stance, having to make line calls and read coverages and sometimes making the shotgun snaps.
“The more you do it, the better you get,” Halapio said. “In the offseason I snapped a bunch, and even now I keep snapping after practice so it’s second nature.”
Halapio admits fighting Jones for a job felt odd at first.
“It’s just pure competition now,” Halapio said. “Like coach says all the time, don’t read into who’s taking the first-team reps. Everyone is being evaluated. As far as me and Brett goes, we’re friends. We help each other out in the film room, on the field, outside of football. Nothing is awkward between us. Yeah, it’s just pure competition between us and everybody in the room.”
The Giants have revamped their offensive line after last year’s disastrous 3-13 season. Guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg signed elsewhere as free agents. Guard John Jerry is now a backup fighting for a roster spot.
Patriots free agent Nate Solder was signed to take over at left tackle and 2015 first-rounder Ereck Flowers was moved to right tackle. Second-round draft pick Will Hernandez is the left guard and free agent Patrick Omameh is the right guard.
The center spot is uncertain.
A former center, Shurmur says he is watching the position closely. He wants his centers to be good communicators.
Halapio might be a little stronger than Jones, who probably understands the job better and had 30 NFL games under his belt at guard and center.
It should be an interesting decision for Shurmur.
We get caught up in the pushback to this game only to forget how it can show the best side of life to both. Good luck to both of these guys and all the other gators out there who have been nothing but positive for us all.