The playbook that Giants rookie safety Shaun Williams carries with him everywhere is four inches thick, contains approximately 1,100 pages and is sectioned off by 42 neatly labeled, color-coded tabs. The white tabs are for general information, coach Jim Fassel's philosophy, terminology and team and league rules. Light blue tabs are for defensive fronts; greens for blitzes; yellows for coverages; dark blues for special teams. You don't have to go far into the playbook to get confused: One of the blitz sections is labeled ZERO, 1 DOG, 1 PEEL, 1 FREE.
Williams, a UCLA alumnus whom New York took with the 24th pick in the draft, was asked what would happen if he lost the book. He shakes his head and closes his eyes. "You can't lose the bible," he says. "But let me look that up."
Flipping to the section titled 1998 NEW YORK GIANTS RULES, Williams discovers that the fine for losing the playbook is $1,500. Furthermore, he reads on, "Player will not receive season's final game check until playbook is turned in." For Williams, that would mean an additional five-figure penalty.
The playbook holds the key to success for every rookie because it answers almost every question. "You start by erasing everything you know from college," Williams says. "At UCLA, if the offense had two backs and one tight end, the defense would call that Pro. Here it's called 21—two backs, one tight end. At UCLA, one back and two tights was Ace. Now it's 12."
Each day at camp Giants coaches install coverages and teach the ins and outs of several defensive fronts. After dinner the players meet with the staff to review their roles in the schemes. By 10:30, Williams and roommate Jason Nevadomsky, a free-agent linebacker also from UCLA, are back in their dorm room. Before Williams calls it a night, he spends 30 minutes to an hour reading and quizzing himself on the new material.
On a recent day at the Giants' camp in Albany, N.Y, Williams is learning how to defend against hurry-up offenses. The playbook tells Williams that when he's the nickelback in a specific scheme, he should hook up with the slot receiver, stop him from getting open inside and stick to him should he sprint upfield. But when it comes time to execute that coverage, Williams blows his assignment.
"I can't tell you why I did it, because I don't know," he says afterward. "Within two or three seconds I thought of a million things. I faded into the area where the slot receiver would have run a curl route and stayed there. When I saw the ball going over my head I knew I'd blown it. Luckily the receiver dropped the pass."
Williams closes the binder and, with some difficulty, stuffs it into his 1998 Cotton Bowl backpack. "I think I'm getting it," he says. "But it's like you're thrown into a class six weeks late with all upperclassmen, and you've got a month to learn everything. If you don't, you won't be here long."