Inside NY Giants rookie Daniel Bellinger’s inspired return from ‘scary’ eye injury
EAST RUTHERFORD – Daniel Bellinger’s fears lasted the duration of the ambulance ride from the stadium to the Jacksonville area hospital six weeks ago.
The rookie tight end for the New York Giants left the game against the Jaguars with “blood everywhere,” the result of a freak incident that occurred when linebacker Devin Lloyd punched at the football, but somehow managed to get his fist through Bellinger’s facemask and deliver a blow to the area around his left eye instead.
“It’s scary, and the first thing you think is, ‘Is my career over? Am I going to see [properly] again?'” Bellinger recalled in a recent interview with NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network. “But that worry goes away when you take a step back, breath and listen to the doctors. That’s what I did at the ER [in Jacksonville], and when they told me my eye was going to be fine, my mind went right to: ‘OK, what do I have to do to get back on the field?'”
That journey into the unknown was certainly complicated for Bellinger, yet when he stepped inside MetLife Stadium for last Sunday’s 20-20 tie against Washington, he achieved what he promised to do after rejoining the Giants for their flight home from Jacksonville later that Oct. 23 night.
His return included separate consultations with an eye specialist and a nose specialist, and the recommendation was that the 22-year-old undergo several procedures to repair fractures of his orbital bone and his septum.
Also, to prevent scar tissue from creating a blockage in his tear duct, doctors inserted a stent as a precaution.
“It’s not just a matter of toughness, because this wasn’t an injury that he could just tough out,” Giants tight ends coach Andy Bischoff said of Bellinger. “This is about perseverance and persistence, and the way he approached his return. He was relentless in his preparation and made sure that when he got back, he was ready to go.”
‘It’s a helpless feeling’
Frank Bellinger was watching Giants-Jaguars at the sports bar inside a nearby Las Vegas casino since he no longer has access at home to the NFL Sunday Ticket, his preferred route to watch his son in his first year with Big Blue.
When Daniel Bellinger was taken from the field on a cart following a 13-yard catch, television cameras showed the blood on his face, his gloves and on his uniform. Immediately, his father felt every bit of the 2,200 miles that separated them.
“You feel helpless, it’s a helpless feeling,” Frank Bellinger said. “You worry about his sight and his daily living. Of course, you worry about his career, but his way of life. So I just went down the casino hallway and waited. That’s when the Giants started calling, and right away I started feeling like, ‘He’s gonna be OK.'”
The first call was from Giants director of player engagement Ashley Lynn. Then Giants senior vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes reached out, letting the elder Bellinger know that the ER doctors did not believe his son sustained any damage directly to the eye itself, and that he was cleared to travel back to New Jersey with the rest of the team after their 23-17 victory over the Jaguars.
Following his surgeries, Bellinger experienced double vision that stemmed from lingering swelling from the trauma. Once that began to subside, Bellinger began testing out visors for his helmet by catching passes on the side during practice. He progressed to running routes, and on Thanksgiving, with his family in attendance at AT&T Stadium, Bellinger took the field during pre-game warmups and settled on the visor that worked best for him.
Upon returning against Washington, Bellinger caught all five of his targets for 24 yards. He also played 64 of a possible 66 total offensive snaps.
“His aptitude is even higher than it was [when he was injured],” Bischoff said of Bellinger. “He knows what we’re doing at a better level. It’s almost like he got four bye weeks of mental growth. Now, we would’ve loved to have him physically, but he took no mental vacation, which was wonderful. So he wasn’t rusty, he was sharp, he is sharp, he continues to be. There’s trust that his teammates have in him, and the more he’s able to contribute, that’s good for all of us.”
Brian Daboll and the Giants pushed Bellinger into the deep end of the NFL rookie pool from the moment he arrived as an unassuming fourth-round draft pick with little offensive production at San Diego State. He struggled to float at first, and then tread water for a while. But once he started to swim like a pro, his impact on the offense was undeniable.
In four years at San Diego State, Bellinger was used more as an extension of the offensive line than a receiver, but the Giants’ scouts loved how he projected to the NFL within the system being built by Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.
Daboll said earlier this season that, while the Giants liked what Bellinger had to offer across the board, assistant general manager Brandon Brown and director of player personnel Tim McDonnell were the ones that “really stood on a table for him when they did their evaluations.”
The Giants believed there was more to the game of the 6-foot-6, 252-pounder than his production in college, and this has been the ideal proving ground for Bellinger to expand his profile and develop into an all-around threat at the position. He had just started to emerge as an integral part of this offense when he was hurt, and now he has the opportunity to build on that Sunday when the Giants seek an upset of the 11-1 Eagles at MetLife Stadium.
It’ll be the first home game for Frank Bellinger, too.
“Very excited that Daniel’s back,” he said. “Looking forward to Sunday.”
This content was originally published here.