With the offseason workout program now a thing of the past and the official start to training camp having arrived on July 21st (report date and physicals), it's time to look ahead to each positional battle and how they will ultimately shape the New York Giants' final 53-man roster. Today we examine the cornerbacks.
Who's in: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond III, Zack Bowman, Bennett Jackson
Who's out: Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas, Aaron Ross
The Names: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond III, Trumaine McBride, Jayron Hosley, Zack Bowman, Charles James, Bennett Jackson, Ross Weaver, Travis Howard
MANY NEW FACES
More than any other position on the team, cornerbacks saw the most significant overhaul this past offseason. The New York Giants parted ways with long-time veterans Corey Webster, Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas — two of whom remain unsigned — replacing them with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond III and Zack Bowman. Ultimately, with the exception of Prince Amukamara, it was a complete facelift at the top of the depth chart.
DRC is obviously the biggest name of the bunch, and at any given time been considered one of the premiere cornerbacks in the league. Unfortunately, there have been many times he's also been considered inconsistent and overrated — namely during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles — and even briefly contemplated retirement following the Super Bowl. But with all of that now behind him and a fresh start awaiting him in New York, DRC is ready for the next chapter in his life, which includes taking on a significant role with the Giants and shadowing their opponents' No. 1 wide receiver.
"Are you the best receiver of their team? [He's] following you then," head coach Tom Coughlin said at the NFL Meetings. "He's physical enough. When you watch him closely, he doesn't shy away. He's got great big long arms, he's tall, he's fast, he can match up."
The pitch to cover opposing No. 1 wide receiver's was a major selling point for DRC, who admits that above all else that helped land him with Big Blue. However, he must now live up to that level of trust and the massive contract that came along with it.
But DRC will not be the only cornerback making a transition into a new defense with a specifically defined role, as Walter Thurmond III also joins the new-look secondary, coming over from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. And whereas DRC will be the Giants' No. 1 cornerback, Thurmond will see time at the very familiar role of slot corner.
"I'm learning a little more stuff than we did in Seattle. We were very simple," said Thurmond. "Here, we're mixing coverages and having exotic defenses. I like it, because it gives me a lot more freedom. … "I still have a lot to prove. I want to be an elite cornerback in this league and I'm looking forward to that challenge."
While DRC and Thurmond have defined roles, the same can not be said for another free agent addition, Zack Bowman, who is joining the Giants after spending the first six years of his NFL career with the Chicago Bears. And while he's not likely to compete with Prince Amukamara or Walter Thurmond, Bowman does bring veteran experience to the team and, perhaps more than anything else, tremendous value to their much-maligned special teams unit as a cover man.
"He does have the experience, and that's something you can't replace," special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said. "And he has the speed, so you combine those two, and he has good size for a corner, so he can go ahead and challenge the two guys that are trying to blow him up. That's one of the toughest things to do on special teams — to beat two guys and get down the field to make the tackle. He's done it before in this league, done it at a high level, and we're excited to have him."
The Giants love versatility in their players and Bowman absolutely has that. He's already one of the better special teams players on the roster and is more than capable at cornerback, adding quality depth to an already deep position.
For Prince Amukamara, all of the new faces will ultimately mean very little. While he'll no longer be matched up specifically with a team's opposing No. 1 wide receiver — as he was with Calvin Johnson when the Giants took on the Detroit Lions last year — he's still going to be penciled in as their second starter. He'll still also be faced with the pressure of living up to his first-round status, which some believe he's failed to do thus far in his career.
It could be for that very reason the Giants debated long and hard before picking up Amukamara's fifth-year option, but that's a topic for another day. Either way, Amukamara will again assume a starting role for the Giants in 2014 and will again be expected to morph into the aggressive, top-end corner so many believe he's capable of being.
"He played all 16 games, every game getting better. You could see him improving by being out there. He understands the defense better. He's much more comfortable here. And now he's starting to take some chances and make some plays because of that comfort. He's really starting to grow up that way, where he understands the game," secondary coach Peter Guinta.
Guinta also said earlier this offseason that the next evolution to Amukamara's game will come as he starts to take more risks — something he felt the young CB began to do at the close of the 2013 season.
"Now he's starting to gamble a bit and take some chances, which you like to see because you want guys thinking, 'Hey, I'm going to make a play,'" Giunta said. "He's evolved that confidence in himself and the defense, and he knows what's coming."
With the top three spots locked up, and three others likely needing to be filled, the Giants will turn their attention to the aforementioned Zack Bowman and several other holdovers like Trumaine McBride, Jayron Hosley and Charles James, as well as 2014 sixth-round draft pick Bennett Jackson.
The battle to fill those remaining three spots — assuming the Giants keep six cornerbacks — really got shaken up when Hosley was suspended the first four games of the 2014 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. And while he apologized to both the team and fans, that error judgment and subsequent suspension has put his roster spot very much at risk.
"I want to apologize to the ownership of the New York Giants," Hosley said. "I've got to be man enough to accept them and move on."
Hosley's hiccup now opens the door for several other players, including McBride, whom the team was very impressed with a season ago when he filled in for an injured Corey Webster. However, with Charles James also flashing earlier this Spring and the value he and Zack Bowman bring to the Special Teams unit, McBride could find himself battling for a spot only months removed from a career-best season.
While he'll likely beat out camp bodies Ross Weaver and Travis Howard, the final two spots will come down to McBride, James and Bennett Jackson. And should the Giants see enough out of Jackson to fear he'll be plucked off of their practice squad, it could spell an unfortunate end for either McBride or James, who we have listed as one of our sleepers.
It'll be a bit of a crapshoot, but in the end, we feel McBride and James will come away with those two spots and that the Giants will have to risk putting Jackson on the practice squad.
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Tags: Bennett Jackson, Charles James, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Football, Jayron Hosley, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Prince Amukamara, Ross Weaver, Travis Howard, Trumaine McBride, Walter Thurmond
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