Posted February 02, 2012

Who is Dan DePalma? Only the Giants’ secret weapon in practice

New England Patriots, New York Giants

Good luck picking out Dan DePalma (left) in the Giants' team photo, but his teammates know how vital his contributions are. (EPA)

INDIANAPOLIS — When cornerback Corey Webster was asked at Tuesday’s Media Day who the toughest Giants receiver is to cover in practice, he answered: “Dan DePalma.”

On Thursday, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell talked about the “quickest” and “hardest-working” receiver on the team, and when a reporter pressed him on who that was, he replied: “Danny DePalma.”

And both Fewell and Webster’s responses beg the question: Who the heck is Dan DePalma?

Well, this week, DePalma is Wes Welker. He is also Julian Edelman. He is the Giants’ secret weapon, a rookie out of tiny West Chester (PA) University who, as a member of the practice squad, has been asked in Super Bowl preparations to play the dual roles of two of New England’s craftiest weapons.

“Coaches gave me the job of being Welker this week and Edelman on defense,” said the 5-foot-11, 200-pound DePalma. “They gave me a DVD with all of Welker’s routes. As much as I can, I try to mimic his movements, his fakes. I try to give our guys that look.”

That is, to a large extent, an impossible task. Welker has led the league in receptions in two of the past three seasons and finished second in two more in his career. He’s a unique talent and has been arguably the most important part of New England’s passing game since joining the team in 2007.

It’s no wonder, then, that DePalma doesn’t mind being described as a “Welker-type” player by Fewell.

“Everybody tells me (that),” DePalma said. “Being able to watch (Welker) work, see what he does … it helps me improve.”

One similarity DePalma does share with Welker: They both were members of other AFC East teams before joining their current teams. Welker spent three seasons with the Dolphins before being traded to New England; DePalma signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent last summer, then was waived just prior to the regular season.

The Giants picked him up, and DePalma has made that decision look like a great one.

“We think a lot of him and he practices hard,” Fewell said. “They want to use him on offense, then we want to use him on defense, because he can take on those types of roles.”

DePalma actually played multiple positions at West Chester, a Division II school that’s a member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (the PSAC also produced 2012 Pro Bowlers John Kuhn and Jahri Evans). DePalma started his collegiate career as a cornerback, then shifted to wide receiver for his final two seasons.

He wound up accounting for 95 catches for 1,794 yards and 18 touchdowns, four interceptions and a punt return touchdown during his four years with the Golden Rams.

Watching Edelman closely, especially over the past two weeks, has allowed  DePalma to dream that he could find a similar role in the NFL sometime in the future.

“It always takes one person to start a little trend – Wes Welker, Wayne Chrebet were smaller WRs, and that gave me an opportunity,” DePalma said. “Wide receivers playing on the defensive side opens the doors around the league in other coaches’ minds. Hopefully, they give me that opportunity to be on the field some day.”

For now, he’s resigned to the practice field.

His stand-in job for Welker gives New York’s defense an idea how the New England receiver will attack its different coverage formations. And when the Giants’ offense is on the field, DePalma’s mostly responsible for covering Victor Cruz — just as Edelman figures to be in Super Bowl XLVI.

“Not many people have guarded Cruz all year, but I’m making a valiant attempt,” DePalma said. “He hasn’t gotten me to fall, but he’s shaken me pretty good a couple times. I played a little DB in college, so it’s not too far out of my abilities, but he’s a different talent than I’ve seen.”

Understandably, neither DePalma nor Fewell would reveal how the Giants’ defense plans to attack Welker Sunday — some of it may depend on Rob Gronkowski’s status. With DePalma’s help, though, New York hopes to be ready for the Patriots’ star slot receiver.

“You can’t impersonate him to the fullest effect,” Fewell said, “but he gives us a great look.”

OK, so you still might not be able to pick DePalma out if the Giants get to celebrate on the Lucas Oil Stadium field this Sunday. Should that happen, however, DePalma’s practice masquerade will have provided, as Webster and Fewell readily admit, a necessary and important assist.

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