If you were watching the New York Giants’ first preseason game against the New England Patriots to get a glimpse of former Iowa safety Dane Belton, you left disappointed. That’s because Belton didn’t play in that game, courtesy of a broken collarbone that’s knocked the former Hawkeye out of the rest of training camp.
Given the severity of the injury, it’s reasonable to wonder what this means for Belton’s future. Can he possibly come back stronger and still help the Giants out in 2022? Here’s what the upcoming year likely holds for him!
The Giants Like His Strengths
Belton excelled at Iowa as the “Cash” linebacker, which made him a hybrid between linebacker and safety. He blitzed well when asked and snagged five interceptions, proving himself a difference-maker wherever he was on the field.
In the Giants’ new aggressive defense, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale planned to use him in several roles. Belton could be used to put pressure on the quarterback from the outside or to sit back in coverage and try to go for the ball. Martindale is known for aggressive play on defense, and the Giants aren’t likely to contend in 2022, so they’re happy to work younger players who show promise into the lineup. As a fourth-round pick, the Giants clearly think a lot of Belton’s abilities, and reports out of training camp suggested he’s living up to their expectations.
That’s one of several reasons that New York is likely to keep him on the roster and stash him on short-term injured reserve. Publicly, the Giants are saying that they hope Belton will be able to return in time for the season opener against Tennessee, but that seems to be a stretch. Given the severity of the injury and the desire for Belton to develop properly, the Giants are likely to wait for him to make a full recovery before getting him on the field.
— NFL (@NFL) February 28, 2022
Belton Will Likely Debut in Week 5
If Belton isn’t ready to go for the season opener, the Giants have options. First, they’ll have to decide that they want him in their long-term plans enough to keep him on the 53-man roster after the preseason. Given that the Giants appeared ready to use him in their dime and possibly nickel coverage packages, that seems very likely.
Once they name him to the 53-man roster, they can place him on short-term injured reserve, which would require him to miss the first four games of the season. That’s not ideal by any means for Belton, but it’s better for him to take his time recovering and getting reps in practice if his collarbone isn’t fully healed by Sept. 11. If Belton is placed on short-term IR, he can practice with the Giants once he’s medically cleared, but wouldn’t be able to play until week 5, when the Giants face Green Bay in London.
Belton will have to beat out Andrew Adams when he returns, but that’s likely to be well within his abilities. Adams is a 29-year-old journeyman player who has suited up for four different teams since 2016. He’s not likely to be around when the Giants are ready to contend, while Belton is a young player with a very high upside. If it’s even close between the two, Belton will have the edge.
Dane Belton lands on NFL's rookie watch list
— New York Giants (@Giants) May 20, 2022
Where Will Belton Play When He Returns?
Belton likely isn’t going to beat out Xavier McKinney or Julian Love for the Giants’ two main safety positions, but that’s OK. He doesn’t have to beat out McKinney or Love to get a lot of playing time in Martindale’s defense. As long as he’s playing well enough as the No. 3 safety for the Giants, he’s going to see the field plenty in his rookie season.
That means he’ll mostly be in on nickel and dime packages, which are a common part of a Martindale defense. As long as he’s healthy, Belton will be a bit of a wild card for the Giants depending on the down and distance.
Amazing post from the NFL’s instagram. Dane Belton has created superhero ‘The Great Dane’ to launch his #4thekids initiative.
Leaving the Jersey in a Better Place! pic.twitter.com/jwS1iRWYTu
— Hawkeye Legacy (@LegacyHawks) February 26, 2022
Belton’s Long-Term Future in New York
The Giants aren’t likely to be a contender in 2022 or even 2023, which means they’re going to let Belton progress slowly with both his injury and his adjustment to the professional game. The Giants have one winning season in their past nine years and have a new coach in town in Brian Daboll, so they seem to be more than willing to be patient with their young players, Belton included.
If you’re up early for Week 5 action, there’s a good chance you’re going to catch Belton making his NFL debut in London against the Packers, and there’s also a good chance that he’ll be part of a solid, aggressive unit.
The Giants’ defense wasn’t the problem for most of last year; they broke down only because the offense scored 13 points or fewer in seven of their final eight games. As long as Belton comes back healthy from his broken collarbone, he should be a solid contributor in his rookie season with New York.
— Dane Belton (@dbelton_) January 8, 2022
Credits on Featured Image: All-Pro Reels on Flickr