It’s been a good time to be Prince Amukamara.
Over the last 12 months, the former first-round pick proposed to his now-wife Pillar Davis while dressed as a member of the dance group Jabbawockeez, got married and then had his fifth-year option on his rookie contract picked up.
He’s quite literally a ‘Prince’ of a village in Nigeria and is a key component to a defensive secondary that is boasting claims as potentially the league’s best.
Reiterating: It’s a good time to be Prince Amukamara.
“It’s been really good,” Amukamara said. “Marriage is amazing, especially with my wife, she makes it easy. It can be a lot of work, but right now I’m definitely enjoying it.”
Since being selected with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Amukamara’s play on the field hasn’t necessarily matched his life off of it. He’s flashed the ability to be considered one of the league’s best, but has yet to do it on a consistent basis.
Injuries have marred the promising career. In his first practice his rookie year, he broke his foot. In year two, a hamstring injury cost him time. After finally remaining healthy last season, reports surfaced the Giants were ‘unsure’ if they’d exercise their option on his rookie contract.
Per the new collective bargaining agreement, each first-round pick is signed to a four-year contract with a team option for a fifth. If the team sees enough in a player and wants him back, they can have him for the fifth year. If not, the player enters free agency.
In Amukamara’s mind, the Giants’ hesitation was warranted.
“I felt I was kind of in the gray area,” Amukamara said. “I didn’t do enough like a Patrick Peterson to assure that option, but I haven’t done so small that they can count me out. I thought I was in the middle, but I’m glad they picked it up.”
Now, Amukamara hopes to pay back the Giants’ faith with his play on the field.
Since hauling in an interception on his first defensive snap of his career, Amukamara’s ball-hawking capabilities haven’t necessarily been displayed. He’s recorded just one interception in each of his three seasons. The goal this year is simple: change that.
“I just want to make more plays on the ball,” Amukamara said. “What I’ve been averaging is consistent, but not consistent enough.”
Cornerbacks’ coach Peter Giunta saw a monumental jump from Amukamara last year and sees no reason why it won’t continue this season. The fourth-year player is beginning to take gambles that he hadn’t in years past. Those risks are paying off.
Giunta said he’s seen Amukamara develop a confidence in himself throughout mini-camp and OTAs. During a two-minute drill practice, Amukamara jumped a route causing quarterback Eli Manning to throw to another target. Antrel Rolle intercepted the pass.
“He read the combination, saw it and jumped inside,” Giunta said. “Antrel intercepted it because Prince cut the route off. He knew it was coming because he felt it.”
In the past, the Giants have put an emphasis on the defensive line, rendering the secondary an after thought. In the front office and coaching staff’s minds, if the line could get to the quarterback before he could release the ball, weaknesses in the secondary could be masked.
The theory worked exceptionally well in both of the Giants’ two Super Bowl runs. But then offenses adjusted. Quarterbacks started getting rid of the ball faster, quicker. The holes in the secondary were no longer hidden.
This offseason, the philosophy changed. Gone were the second-tier secondary players; in came big name, after big name. Amukamara joins Antrel Rolle as the lone starter returning in the secondary.
Free-agent signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will play opposite Amukamara. Walter Thurmond III will be in the nickel. Stevie Brown steps in for the recently departed Will Hill.
“We’re trying to be the No. 1 secondary, just like every secondary, in the league,” Amukamara said. “I think we have a good chance of doing that.”
Helping prepare the team for what they’ll face on Sunday are the Giants’ own group of wide receivers. A corps that has Amukamara impressed. The new offense is up-tempo, fast paced and different than in recent history. Gone are the big bodies. In their place? Speed.
“They’re all fast,” Amukamara said. “It’s like we have six different Cruzs out there. They’re just being fast and they’re able to take the top off of defenses. It’s been great working against them.”