Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Cornerbacks
In the first few paragraphs of part one, we discussed how poorly the Giants’ secondary has played in the past two years within the confines of the equally-disappointing overall defensive performance. We then broke down the safety prospects currently on the roster. In this article, we will focus on the cornerbacks.
There are currently 10 cornerbacks on the training camp roster. The Giants are likely to keep five or possibly six at most on the 53-man roster.
Corey Webster: The Giants need Webster to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season. Webster, who accepted a pay cut in the offseason, also needs to rebound well for personal financial reasons. He is entering the final year of his current contract (he has a voidable year in 2014). There is a good chance this is Corey’s last season with the Giants.
Webster’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster. He seemed like a bust the first two years of his career until he came on late during the 2007 Super Bowl run. Since then, he’s had some outstanding seasons and a couple of sub par ones, including 2012. In his worst moments from last season, sometimes he got cleanly burned, sometimes he was in position to make a play but did not. Webster did not miss a game despite a nagging hamstring injury that plagued him much of the season and breaking his hand in September. Webster finished 2012 with 58 tackles, 13 pass defenses (most on the team), and four interceptions (second most on the team).
Webster has a nice combination of size (6’0”, 200 pounds) and athleticism. While not a blazer, he is smooth and fluid with good quickness and speed. Webster can play both man and zone coverage although he seems more comfortable in man. He is a confident and instinctive player. Webster is not terribly aggressive or physical against the run. Was 2012 an aberration for the 31-year old Webster, or the beginning of the downside of his career?
“We had a lot of errors all across the field and that’s everywhere – coaches, players, and the whole strategy,” said Webster. “So we have to use that film to try and get better. It’s always hard to use film when you lose to get better, but there’s always a silver lining. We’re doing just that. We’re correcting those mistakes, those communication errors, and those misplays so we can eliminate them now and not go into the season trying to eliminate them.”
“Corey will be better,” said Cornerbacks Coach Peter Giunta. “He’s been working very hard to come back and be a better player, become more like he was more at the end of the 2011 season when we had that run and he was very consistent in his performance. And that’s what we’re looking for, for Corey to be a consistent performer for us this year.”
“When he broke his hand, it hurt him with his press technique because he wasn’t able to put his hand on the receiver so he tried to compensate,” said Giunta. “He battled through injuries because he knew we needed him on the field for all 16 games.”
“We put him on the opponent’s best receiver most of the time (in 2011),” said Giunta. “Hopefully this year he will be able to stay at the left corner spot and provide us with the consistency that we are looking for.”
“I do know that (Corey is) coming back with a purpose and so it will be fun to see him come back in the fall,” said Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell.
Prince Amukamara: Amukamara was drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants, but his initial season was a virtual wash due to him suffering a broken foot that required surgery very early in training camp. Amukamara missed most of camp, all of the preseason, and nine regular-season games because of the injury. When he did return in November, he did not appear mentally or physically comfortable on the playing field and was burned on several occasions.
2012 did not start off well either when Amukamara suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason and missed the first two games of the regular season. He also missed a game and was limited in two others in December with a hamstring injury. But when Amukamara played, he was a very steady performer and arguably the team’s best corner. He ended up playing in 13 games, with 11 starts, and finished with 53 tackles, seven pass defenses, and one interception.
Amukamara is a well-built (6’0”, 207 pounds), aggressive, and physical corner. He has good speed and quickness. He has the tools, but what is his upside? The most important thing for him is to stay healthy.
“He’s had a very good offseason program,” said Giunta.” He’s done a great job in the strength program getting himself into the kind of shape he needs to be in and in improving his durability. He’s been here for every OTA and has made every practice. He hasn’t missed any time at all. If he continues to show that kind of devotion, he’ll continue to get better and better as a player. We want him to become a productive performer for us. We want him to make big plays and big hits and big plays for us. He has that ability to do that.”
“He understands the system well now and can go out there and execute it,” continued Giunta. “He feels so much more comfortable because he’s able to do it with his teammates now. He’s not on the sideline watching. He feels like he’s truly a part of it. Last year for him was basically his rookie season, so to have that and to build on that, to be able to come into training camp this year, he’s a different guy who’s much more confident.”
“I’d say the more I play the more confidence I get,” said Amukamara. “Now, during this offseason, just having Terrell (Thomas) just next to me and learning how much knowledge he has, that just took my game to a whole other level. He’s like a player-coach and every time he’s critiquing me on my technique or my back-pedal, just telling me, ‘You need to understand the defense. You don’t need to just worry about you’re doing, but know what the nickel is doing. That’s first-year stuff. You know what you’re doing now. Now you’re in your third year, so now know what the safety is doing and know what the nickel is doing and it will make you play a lot better and a lot faster.’”
“I think he’s still a little wet behind the ears as far as his mentality, how he attacks his daily job,’’ said Thomas. “Me and Corey have been working on him with that, letting him know just doing your job is not enough, we need more out of you. I think he’ll get it. Sometimes it takes some people a little longer than others…With Prince he’s just happy doing his job and we’re trying to get him that we need more. ‘Yeah, you had a good game, nobody caught the ball on you, but you had no pass breakups, you had no interceptions, no big plays, that’s the next step.’ He stays healthy this year, he can be very productive for us.’’
To his credit, Amukamara has high personal goals heading into 2013.
“I really want to be the number one corner on this team and I feel like right now Corey is and my goal is to always just try to beat him out and I think as soon as I establish myself as the number one corner, then hopefully just become the number one corner in the whole league,” said Amukamara. “ I know that’s going to take work, but guys that came out of my draft class are doing great: Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, and those are the guys I kind of compare myself to and I’m just trying to exceed all of them.”
Jayron Hosley: The Giants drafted Hosley in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Hosley played in 12 games with six starts, and finished the season with 40 tackles, five pass defenses, one interception, and one forced fumble. He did miss four games with hamstring, shoulder, and quadriceps injuries. The Giants seem to really like Hosley’s game, but he had an injury-prone, inconsistent, and sometimes rough rookie season, being thrust into the nickel back role perhaps sooner than he was ready.
Hosley lacks ideal stature (5’10’’, 178 pounds), but he is athletic with good speed and quickness. Hosley has good ball skills as he reacts well to the football and can make play on the ball in the air. In college, Hosley did have drug issues. If he keeps his nose clean and remains focused on football, Hosley should improve with improved technique and increased playing time. But he also needs to stay healthy. He got dinged a lot as a rookie, causing him to miss valuable practice and playing time.
“I think what happened with him, every time he started to make progress, he’d be injured and would be out 2-3 weeks, and wasn’t able to practice or compete and play in games,” said Giunta. “That’ sets you back, especially as a rookie. So take the Jets game, every time he starts to make progress, he gets hurt. Carolina game, he has a really good game making plays, and then he gets hurt. That’s unfortunate for him, so he has to learn to take care of his body better, get himself in shape and do the kind of things that he needs to do to become a more durable player because he has the talent to be a good football player at this level.”
“He’s learning,” said Giunta. “He’s becoming a better technician, playing inside and playing outside, so he’s developing those skills to play both the nickel and corner spot, and he got experience doing both last year. There’s a lot playing the nickel spot…it’s hard that way when you lose that time. You need experience to play that spot. The more experience you get, the better you’ll get. He can play any of the corner spots we need him to, so that’s huge.”
Terrell Thomas: Thomas was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2012 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee for the third time in seven years. The first tear occurred in college and the second tear happened during the 2011 preseason. The injuries obviously put his football career in doubt.
Before suffering the second injury in the 2011 preseason, Thomas looked primed for perhaps his best season. Thomas was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2009 and 2010, Thomas was a very solid starting corner who made a lot of big plays but also occasionally gave up a few. In the 31 games he started during that time frame, Thomas accrued 186 tackles, 34 pass defenses, and 10 interceptions.
Thomas is a big (6’0”, 191 pound), physical corner who matches up well with bigger receivers. Pre-injury, while not a blazer, he was a good athlete with fine speed and quickness for his size. Thomas is very good in run support and a good blitzer.
The big question is obvious. Even if Thomas can stay on the field, how much ability has he lost from the back-to-back ACL tears? It is doubtful he can regain his old form, but can he come close?
“I don’t think (Thomas is) an unknown for us,” said Fewell. “We do have plans, but I don’t think he’s an unknown because he’s been with us, he’s been in our program. We understand what his skill set was. Now when he comes back what will his skill set be?”
“He’s making progress,” said Giunta. “Terrell is making good progress…We’re going to do what the offense did with Domenik Hixon, try to bring him along slowly. Give him a certain number of reps each practice to get him from the practices to the first preseason game. We’re going to try and manage him well and just give him a very limited role to start.”
“I’m able to do everything,” Thomas said in June. “It’s more just about getting comfortable and trusting myself without hesitating, without thinking, and just reacting, and I’m almost there. Physically, I haven’t swelled up in the last four months and I’ve been progressing every week. Each week I get better and faster and stronger, so it’s just a progression. I have to be realistic with myself knowing that I had two ACLs in one year and it’s a long journey. But I’ll be back and I’m going to shock a lot of people.”
“I will be ready for training camp without limitation,” Thomas said. “The amount of work I do (in training camp), I don’t know…I’m already cleared for training camp. I got three months (before the season begins) to keep getting stronger and healthy and rehab.”
“Right now, to be honest with you I feel great,” said Thomas on his website in July. “The last (few) weeks, my confidence is getting better and better. I am not 100%; I would say I am 85% to 90%. The only thing missing is real field work; going against my teammates, the grind of practice, and seeing how my knee handles all that.”
“I am excited about camp starting this week,” Thomas said. “I feel like a big question mark on defense and I love it. That makes me feel like a rookie again, nobody knows what to expect from me other than that I was a good player. Just like when I was coming into the league as a good player coming out of college, so I love that feeling. I feel like I am the X factor for the defense, I think I can be a big key for our defense this year as far as my physical play combined with my knowledge, communication, and leadership skills.”
Earlier in the offseason, General Manager Jerry Reese raised the possibility of moving Thomas to safety. That’s still a possibility but it appears the Giants and Thomas want to see if he can still play at corner. The problem is the cornerback position puts a lot of stress on the knees.
“All that safety talk, that was just based on my knee, how I come back,” Thomas said. “In that safety role, it’s kind of like the nickel. When we had the three-safety look, it’s pretty much nickel, it’s just a bigger nickel position. So I already know that position. That’s a position I played my first and second year at the nickel spot so it wouldn’t be a hard transition. I played a little safety in 2010. We had a package where I would go into the post. I had an interception, a couple tackles as well.”
“(Playing corner) it’s more being on an island,” Thomas said. “Your knee is in a more unstable situation. You have to react to the receiver. Safety is more you’re dictating. So I think that’s why Jerry Reese said that. But I already knew I’d switch to safety later in my career just because of my body type, the way I play. So I’m not scared at all. If they tell me I’m going to play kicker, I’ll play kicker.”
“(Moving Thomas to safety is) always a consideration,” said Fewell. “We’d like to find out, obviously, what his skill set is like when he comes back and how comfortable he feels in his movements.”
Aaron Ross: Ross signed with the Giants in March 2013 after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2012, Ross played in 14 games with nine starts for the Jaguars. He finished the year with 46 tackles and three pass defenses.
Ross was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Giants. In five seasons with the Giants, Ross started 41 regular-season games, including 15 starts in 2011, when he finished with career highs in tackles (60), pass defenses (12), and interceptions (four). Ross missed a lot of time in 2009 (hamstring) and 2010 (plantar fascia tear) with injuries.
Ross combines good size (6’0”, 197 pounds) and athleticism. He is fluid and smooth in coverage, but lacks ideal speed and quickness. There seems to be a few games every season where Ross struggles in coverage. He can be aggressive and physical in run support.
One thing is definitely clear – Ross is thrilled to be back with the Giants. And the Giants seem glad to have him back as well.
“I missed the guys, I missed the coaches, I missed the organization and it seems like everybody else missed me just as well so it seems like a mutual thing,” said Ross. “It brings a smile to my face when I came in knowing that it wasn’t just me that was missing the Giants. It was vice-versa…I am happy to be home where I feel like I belong.”
“He has done a great job at the nickel spot for us,” said Giunta. “He did a great job in the Super Bowl run playing right corner. He can play right, left, nickel. His flexibility is huge for us. We are so excited to have him back.”
“He (has) picked up where he left off,” said Giunta. “He looks really focused. His quickness is better than it was when he left. Being away for a while…It showed him how much he missed this place and missed the guys he was with and the way we run the operation here at the Giants. It’s been a breath of fresh air having him back because he really appreciates what we have here and some of the guys take it for granted, but he hasn’t and it comes across to the other guys. Hey, this is important. You guys don’t know how lucky you have it here.”
Like Webster, Ross suggests that coaches and players have needed to work together to prevent mental errors that lead to big plays.
“Where we struggle is where we make mental busts, but I think we’re doing a better job in getting the fundamentals down, learning the defense in and out and taking it rep by rep instead of moving too fast to learn the defense,” said Ross. “I think the coaches sat down this whole offseason and seen that on film. They’re doing a great job in really breaking down the defense in and out, making sure the safeties know exactly what the corners are doing and the corners know what the safeties are doing.”
Ross also thinks he can help in the leadership department.
“I feel like I’m already taking some of the younger guys under my wing and just teaching them the little things that they may not know like myself,” said Ross. “R.W. (McQuarters) and Sam (Madison) did a great job with me and Corey and Terrell Thomas just taking us in and showing us the ropes.”
Trumaine McBride: McBride was an under-the-radar signing for the Giants in January 2013. McBride was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. The Bears waived him in September 2009. Since then, he has spent time with the Cardinals, Saints, and Jaguars. Nine of McBride’s 10 NFL starts came as a rookie. He has played in 48 NFL games but only one last season with the Jaguars. McBride lacks ideal size (5’9’’, 185 pounds), but he is very quick and the Giants appear to like what they’ve seen out of him.
“We’re counting on (Webster, Amukamara, Hosley, Thomas, Ross) plus Trumaine McBride has done a tremendous job in the OTAs so far and we’re looking forward to seeing him compete in training camp,” said Giunta. “He’s a veteran. He’s played in the league and played at Chicago and has a lot of experience and a lot of quickness.”
Terrence Frederick: Frederick spent most of 2012 on the Giants’ Practice Squad but was added to the 53-man roster in December and played in two games. Frederick was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers waived him in August. Frederick lacks ideal size (5’10’’, 187 pounds) and speed, but he is an aggressive, instinctive player who has experience playing in the slot.
Laron Scott: Scott spent 2012 on the Giants’ Practice Squad. He was signed by the Giants in August 2012 after being waived by the New Orleans Saints. The Saints had signed Scott as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. Scott lacks ideal size for a corner (5’9’’, 184 pounds). He can return kicks and punts and had a 67-yard kickoff return for the Saints in their first preseason game.
Charles James: James was signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. James lacks ideal size (5’9’’, 179 pounds) and speed, but he is a quick, tough, instinctive corner who makes plays on the football. He has experience as a punt returner.
“Very quick athlete,” Giunta said of James. “Very good change of direction. Very good ball skills, like his toughness.”
Junior Mertile: The Giants signed Mertile in May 2013 after he impressed at the rookie mini-camp as tryout player. Mertile has good size (6’1’’, 197 pounds) and excellent speed.
Summary: Giunta says the top five guys are Webster, Amukamara, Hosley, Thomas, and Ross. The Giants need Webster to bounce back, Amukamara to stay healthy and take that next step, and Hosley to stay healthy and develop. If not, then the Giants are going to have issues at corner. Thomas is the wild card. It’s probably not realistic to expect him to be able to play at a high level again, but if he does, that will help tremendously. The return of Ross may be a bigger deal than most fans realize. McBride, Frederick, Scott, James, and Mertile are the longshots. But Giunta did have good things to say about McBride and James.