"No not at all," he said of the 'Yosi' - Young Osi - moniker bestowed upon him by some of his veteran teammates. "Considering I was on IR in my first year, and then made a position change (to linebacker), and then with me being on the practice squad, I think to be compared to a guy like (former Giants defensive end) Osi Umenyiora means a lot."
Tracy, who opined that he and Umenyiora are virtually identical as far as their physical characteristics, hopes to steer his career path down the same yellow brick road of his former teammate, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end.
To ensure that he matches--no, surpasses--Umenyiora's ten-year production with the Giants, which includes 75.0 career sacks and the franchise's single game sacks record (6), Tracy hopes to apply lessons learned from some quality time spent with Umenyiora last season which covered everything from how to take care of his body to which rushing techniques to use against specific opponents.
"He's one of the elite," Tracy said of his former teammate who signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. "Last year, I was right under his wing. Every time he turned around, I was right there trying to learn anything any everything I could. And he's given me advice that I think has made a big difference for me so far this year."
One of the things that Umenyiora stressed to his former teammate is the importance of preparation. Tracy recalled that last year, he and Umenyiora would frequently meet during the week before a game every morning at 6:30 a.m. to watch film and to exchange ideas on what they were seeing from upcoming opponents on film. Umenyiora would quiz his young protégé and offer input that the aspiring pass rusher found to be invaluable in his own weekly preparation.
"I think just being a student of the game - that's one of the biggest things I've learned from him," Tracy said. "We'd be in there studying the opponent's passing and run games to see exactly what we could do to exploit. That's something I've continued to do now that he's moved on."
That film study, combined with his seeking knowledge from other veteran defensive teammates such as Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Mathias Kiwanuka, have resulted in Tracy's confidence level being boosted as far as understanding his assignments, the defensive game plan, and, most importantly, applying what is taught in the classroom and viewed on film onto the playing field.
"I just think I understand my role better and what's being asked of me has really helped," he said of the progress he's made this spring. "This is my third year in the defense, so I kind of know the ins and outs."
What has also helped Tracy, in his opinion, was his brief flirtation with playing linebacker. Drafted in the sixth round in 2010 out of William & Mary, where he played end in a 3-4 scheme, the coaches attempted to convert Tracy to an outside linebacker.
That experiment that never got off the ground because in part due to a season-ending elbow injury he suffered in his rookie season followed by his inability to make the 53-man roster the following year.
Although the failed experiment might have set him back if just a little, Tracy didn't come away empty handed, as he's been able to apply the perspective and knowledge he gained while working at linebacker into becoming a better defensive end.
"There's a little bit of carry over as far as me knowing where the back row (defensive secondary) is going to be at," he said. "I just kind of know where the defensive backs are going to be, where I'm supposed to be to help them out, and then in the defense as a whole. Everyone has a job and a responsibility, and on the line, my responsibility is to give clean reads to the linebackers against the run."
So far, so good for Tracy, who recently drew praise from Giants defensive line coach Robert Nunn.
"He is further along right now than he has ever been in his career at this time; this point," Nunn said. "He has got to keep moving forward and come in here in great shape, which I know he will. He always takes care of himself. He has proven, as a special teams player, that he has got to go out there and be consistent playing the run and pass on Sundays on defense."
Tracy smiled again when asked what part of his game, the run or the pass, he felt was further along, his response conjuring up comparisons of Umenyiora.
"I'd say playing the pass. Pass rushing is one of the things that has allowed me to be here. Light guy, smaller, so I'm not really a pound-for-pound big dude."
But that doesn't mean that he can't evolve into a force against the run, an area in which the Giants struggled mightily last season, allowing opponents an average of 129.1 rushing yards per game, 14th in the NFC.
"I do have strength so hopefully that can translate into me being a run stopper as well," he said. "I know I have to get off the pass rush and when it's a run, I have to be stout at the point of attack."
In time, Tracy believes he'll become more of a complete package, and he hopes to continue to take advantage of the opportunities that are sure to come his way this summer what with Pierre-Paul sidelined after having back surgery.
When things do get started in the summer, Tracy said that there's one particular piece of advice that Umenyiora used to regularly preach that he plans to fall back on in his quest to secure a spot in the team's defensive end rotation.
"Don't do too much -- understand your boundaries and limitations, but also understand your strengths and what you bring to the table," Tracy said. "Just go out there and have fun. At the end of the day, it's still football, it's something you love and have been doing for a while, so just go out there and play."
Patricia Traina is a New Jersey-based, accredited sportswriter who covers the New York Giants for Inside Football. She is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow her on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.
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