When it comes to the defensive tackle position, the New York Giants seem to have a tradition in place where a young draft pick, usually chosen anywhere between Rounds 2 through 4, ultimately steps in as a starter when the guy in front of him—also usually a draft pick–departs.
According to the historical starting lineups kept by Pro Football Reference, the “tradition” began in 2006.
That season, the Giants drafted Barry Cofield in the fourth round. Cofield, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with Washington, was later replaced in the starting lineup by Linval Joseph, a Giants second-round pick in 2010.
When Joseph when to the Vikings in free agency, Johnathan Hankins, a second-round pick in 2013, took his place.
This year, Jay Bromley, chosen in the third round of the 2015 draft, is hoping at his hard work will be enough to take his place in the long chain of homegrown defensive tackles and allow second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson to wait his turn.
So far so good for the guy defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo this week called “steady Eddie.”
Said Spagnuolo of Bromley, “He knows the defense. We’ve always talked about him working on his footwork and he’s been doing that.”
In the last week’s preseason opener, Bromley finished with three tackles, including one for a loss, working alongside of Damon Harrison.
While not one to rest on his laurels, Bromley admitted that he still sometimes is pinching himself to make sure he’s not dreaming when he lines up on worth the starting defense.
“Yeah, it’s weird to me not being on the scout team. I know I’m going to go out there and get some work, but me being me, but being on the first team and taking those reps, or even coming out after the first half last week (against the Steelers), I usually play the whole game. I’m so used to being that guy on the fringe.”
Bromley, who played his college ball at Syracuse, might very well have been on the fringe entering this season were it not for a change in attitude.
As a rookie in 2014, Bromley was limited to spot duty, appearing in eight games as he got his feet wet at the NFL level.
When Spagnuolo returned for his second stint with the Giants in 2015, Bromley had his best season, appearing in all 16 games with four starts while finishing with a career-high 36 tackles, 19 solo.
Hoping to build on that foundation, Bromley was preparing himself for an even bigger role in the defense in 2016 alongside of Hankins.
It was not meant to be. Although not entirely his fault, Bromley was part of a disastrous and injury-wrecked defense that in 2015 finished dead-last in the league overall, and 24th against the run.
General manager Jerry Reese, realizing that the defense was broken, went on a major free-agent shopping spree to fix the problem, plopping down over $200 million in total contracts.
One of the big money signings was Harrison, the former Jets nose tackle who was widely regarded as one of, if not the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the league.
Suddenly for Bromley, everything he began to build in that 2015 season came crashing down around him, and with that, his confidence quickly followed suit.
“I’ve always believed that confidence is the number one thing in this sport,” Bromley said. “When you go through those ups and downs, your confidence is, you know, so fragile. You play good in 2015 and start four games, and then you bring in a guy like Snacks, so it’s like, you have (Hankins) here and you’re suddenly like, ‘Ok, how do I fit in?’”
His confidence shaken, Bromley was relegated to the third defensive tackle in the rotation. He appeared in 15 regular-season games in 2016, but recorded just 14 total tackles and one sack in 264 snaps.
“I disappeared,” he admitted.
Almost for good.
“I’ve Been Humbled.”
Sometimes a young draft pick can come into the NFL thinking he has all the answers, that he’s entitled to a job and that he doesn’t have to work as hard to get it.
Bromley never had that attitude—his background and upbringing wouldn’t allow for it.
Born May 18, 1992 in Jamaica, New York, Bromley’s biological father was incarcerated on murder charges and his mother battled a crack cocaine that ultimately led her to abandoning her son when he was just three months old.
Bromley was raised by his aunt and uncle, Frances and Roy Nimmons, whom he considers parents. One of the things they helped to instill in Bromley was always maintaining humility.
Bromley was in fact so humbled by his upbringing that when the Giants drafted him, he remembers stepping foot into the team’s facility worried that the rug might be yanked out from underneath him.
“In my rookie year, I was thinking, ‘Man, can I get cut?’” he said. “That was my mindset. I always worked my tail off and gave thanks to the coaches I had in high school and college. I have been forced to be humbled; that was instilled in me so that I never think more of myself than what it is at that moment.”
That humility has served Bromley well as he today battles for the starting job.
“I have a saying I keep with me that my coach told me in high school,” he said. “’The highs are never too high and the lows are never too low.’ So, no matter how I play, I’m never as good as you say, or as bad as you say. That’s what keeps me motivated to go to work every single day.”
Besides his humility, Bromley let go of any disappointment he might have felt when the Giants brought Harrison in and now views the man nicknamed “Snacks” as a mentor.
“He’s just a well of information–knowing the game, formations and making sure you look at your work before you put your hand in the ground,” he said.
“Offensive linemen give away a lot different things because they run a lot of the same plays, so if you just pay attention to those things, you can line up the plays before they happen.”
The tips from Harrison, combined with Bromley’s decision to dedicate himself to working out at the team’s facility through the offseason seems to be paying off.
“Jay’s come a long way, man, but that’s just a testament to him being in here in the offseason,” Harrison said. “I come in here to run and he’s already running, he’s lifting weights, he’s focused. It’s night and day from where he was a year ago.”
“He’s made a tremendous jump,” added defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. “The way he gets off the ball, the way he uses his power. The way he’s reading the blocks, he’s not just running up the field. Jay is a totally different player from four years ago.
“I think he’s ready; I think this is going to be his breakout year.”
“I had to learn to be myself.”
Bromley has overcome so many curveballs in his 25 years of life, that by now he doesn’t even think about it when something does go wrong.
“I had to learn to be myself no matter what and that I had to believe in myself no matter what,” he said. “I gotta believe I’m the best player on the field because I prepare for it. And I just took that into the offseason, and honestly, that’s been the biggest thing. Through the grace of God, I’ve been able to showcase what I can do on the field right now.”
That inner strength he believes, has enabled him to deal with the “threat” of Tomlinson, the rookie out of Alabama who is also eyeing that starting job alongside of Harrison.
“Honestly, probably not,” Bromley said when asked if he might have been able to handle the addition of Tomlinson last year .
“I would like to think that, ‘Ok, just come in and work my tail off and everything will be okay,’ but I’m not sure mentally I would have been okay.”
Besides his humility, Bromley credits his wife of a year, Alexis, and their now three-month-old son, Jayson Jr., for being his pillars of strength.
“I didn’t grow up with my biological parents. I didn’t have a dad that came to my games and my mom didn’t come to my games,” Bromley said.
“The one thing in college that always helped me play as well as I did was that I always played as though my mother was in the stands watching.
“Now I’m at the point where my son and my wife come to watch me. I play for them because I know one day, my son is going to grow up and see tape and read about his dad. I want him to read about the story of perseverance, how my story that started out bad, but because I worked my tail off, I became better not only as a football player but as a man.”