With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Cornerbacks
2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: The Giants dramatically overhauled the cornerback position in the 2014 offseason, saying goodbye to long-time contributors Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, and Terrell Thomas while adding free agents Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie (DRC), Walter Thurmond, and Zack Bowman. These new additions were to support former-first rounder Prince Amukmara and the re-signed Trumaine McBride. It was believed by many that not only were the Giants exceptionally strong at corner, but that this could be the strongest group of corners on the team in recent memory.
But those expectations vanished quickly due to injury. Nickel corner Walter Thurmond was placed on Injured Reserve after only two games, followed by Trumaine McBride in mid-October and Prince Amukamara in early November. The loss of Amukamara – who was having his best season – was particularly a hard pill to swallow. Without three of their top four corners, more pressure was placed on DRC, who was also dealing with a litany of injury issues to the point where he could not play a full game.
The Giants were quickly left to scramble and made in-season roster moves including signing castoffs Chykie Brown, Mike Harris, and Chandler Fenner. Brown and Harris performed reasonably well given the circumstances, but overall, the secondary failed to fulfill their preseason boasts as one of the best units in the NFL. The Giants finished 18th in the NFL in pass defense.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Most of the significant roster changes at corner have been subtractions. Somewhat surprisingly, the team did not make much (if any) of an effort to re-sign Thurmond and he signed with the Eagles. The Giants also appear not to have made an effort to re-sign Bowman, who signed with the Dolphins.
The Giants made few additions at corner, choosing instead to re-sign free agents Chykie Brown and Chandler Fenner. The team signed the uninspiring corner/safety ‘tweener Josh Gordy from the Colts and journeyman street free agent Trevin Wade. Because of this, it was expected that the Giants would probably take a corner in the 2015 NFL Draft. However, not only did the Giants not draft a corner, the team also did not sign a rookie free agent at the position after the draft.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: If Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara can stay healthy, the Giants may have the best duo of corners in the NFL. However, Amukmara has been an injury-prone player since being drafted in 2011, missing significant time in three of his first four seasons. Rodgers-Cromartie did not miss a game in 2014, but was nagged all season long with a variety of injuries that affected his game and the number of snaps he could play. Assuming these two stay healthy, the media will focus much of its preseason attention on how good these two can be playing together.
But the more important story line could be the apparent lack of depth. The third (nickel) corner is a de facto starter in today’s NFL. Who will be the team’s nickel corner? The early favorite is McBride, but he could be pressed by Mike Harris. Also, what if DRC or Amukamara miss time due to injury? Who will be the first corner off of the bench to replace the missing outside guy? Again, the early favorite is probably McBride, but Chykie Brown could factor into the equation.
Other contenders for roster spots include Josh Gordy, Jayron Hosley, Chandler Fenner, and Trevin Wade. None of these names inspire. Indeed, on paper it appears that corner is the shallowest position on the team. An injury or two here could spell disaster.
A longer-term focus is Amukmara’s contract situation. The Giants are currently set to have three of their very best players hit the open market in 2016 (Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Amukamara). And the team can only Franchise tag one of them. Prince has made it very clear via his Twitter feed that he wants to get paid. Will he be able to play a full schedule for just the second time since he was drafted? If he does and plays as well as hoped, will the Giants be able to re-sign him?
ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants normally keep five or six corners. Barring injury or unforeseen circumstances, DRC and Amukamara are locks, leaving three or four roster spots open. The early favorites to make the team are McBride, Harris, and Brown. Gordy, Hosley, Fenner, and Wade are clearly on the bubble. Gordy could be helped by his position flexibility, being able to play safety in a pinch.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Tim Walton on Prince Amukamara: “He definitely can improve just in techniques in general. When we play press technique, that is always a constant thing because with his talent, he is going to see different guys, he is going to see smaller receivers and bigger receivers, and you have to be able to change that up based on the guys you see and be effective with it. Also just on his ability to play fast and trying to show him to be able to see formations, see tendencies, see splits and being able to let that put you in the right position and be able to play up to his maximum potential all the time. That has a lot to do with the understanding of the situations, of formation or splits and things like that, because he has played a lot of football so he understands and those are the things that can help him grow so he can play fast all the time because he has some real talent.”
Walton on Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara being elite corners: “(DRC) definitely has to be that guy. The thing about it that we feel good about is hopefully we have two guys that can be that and that is the confidence and level of expectation that we have is that he definitely will be that guy and a guy that has that ability, and we need to build on a consistent basis. We also feel that Prince has the ability to do that, also, and that is where we become better as a football team where we can have that with both guys because that gives you the ability that you can handle the match-ups.”
Walton on Jayron Hosley: “He has the talent. The thing we talk about is confidence. We have to make sure the confidence is there and the consistency is there and all of those things, so that the talent is showing on a daily basis. We don’t want to be up and down with it, so that is the thing we talk about and we work on, is trying to be consistent with it and getting confidence so you can play at a level that you would like to play at on a daily basis… He would probably be outside right now. Who knows what he may end up doing, but right now, to get confidence, you also want to start at one spot and kind of go from there and grow with it. You don’t want to throw a ton on his plate, start with one thing, let’s do that well and we’ll progress from there.”
PREDICTIONS: Provided they stay healthy, the Giants are in great shape with Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara. They are clearly the best two corners in the NFC East and one of the two could end up in the Pro Bowl.
Nevertheless, the biggest weakness on this roster may not be the offensive line or linebacker or safety, but cornerback due to the overall lack of quality depth. When teams like the Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins play 3- and 4-wide receivers sets, the Giants will be forced to counter with the likes of McBride, Harris, and Brown. And God help the Giants if either one of the two top guys get hurt.
The fear here is that while DRC and Amukamara largely handle their business, opponents will feast on the third and fourth corners. The Giants desperately need one or two of these former castoffs to surprise. McBride did start 10 games for the Giants in 2013 and did a respectable job. Harris is a guy who the team thinks can play nickelback.
The wild card could be Brown. He was a 2014 in-season cut by the Ravens, when he was ironically being coached by Steve Spagnuolo. Before he was fired, Perry Fewell said of Brown, “He is a young man that is very conscientious. He takes very good notes, and when I say takes good notes, he is a good film study guy. He doesn’t have all of our techniques down pat, but he has the long arms. We like that, for jams, he has really good speed, so we like the speed that he can possess when he runs down the field. He is a pretty tough guy as a corner. Most corners are not physically tough guys, I think he is a pretty tough guy. I think he is a really nice addition to come in and help play in our secondary. We just like the speed factor, and some of the intangibles of what I just mentioned in his play.”
If the reserve corners struggle, the Giants will be scanning the waiver wire.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Unless there is another roster addition, the top five corners look to be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride, Chykie Brown, and Mike Harris. To me, the bigger question is do the Giants go with five or six corners. My early guess is they will carry one more safety and one fewer corner and go with only five cornerbacks.