It is debatable how much New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas would have been able to contribute, even if healthy this season. Although his contract suggests that General Manager Jerry Reese brought him back to start, there is a long list of players who have suffered major knee injuries and returned to the field as shells of their former selves. Regardless, his status for this season is up in the air, and it has left Big Blue searching for someone to man the slot corner position that Thomas was expected to fill.
For the majority of 2011, safety Antrel Rolle doubled as both a safety and nickel cornerback. Although it was not his natural position, Rolle embraced the job and turned in a more than serviceable performance in 2011. However, prior to Thomas' injury, Antrel was looking forward to being able to focus solely on his responsibilities as a safety.
"So when I have more time to myself, I'm going to be able to put in my mind, ‘Look, you're going to have to be able to do this, do this, do this, do that. Next year will definitely be a better season for me. I've always been a climber. I've never been a person that declined. I'll look to get better." Rolle said.
Unfortunately, injuries are a seemingly everyday occurrence not just in the NFL, but also in the Giants defensive backfield. Although Rolle was brought to Big Blue to play safety, his versatility and previous experience at the cornerback position have proven to be invaluable to defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defense.
Instead of having to insert an inexperienced, or a less talented player into a contributing role in the defensive backfield to replace an injured Terrell Thomas, Rolle will be able to fill the void serviceably. On Thursday, safeties coach Dave Merritt confirmed that the team is looking for Rolle to play in the slot.
"Two days ago, I went up to him and had a conversation with him and said, ‘Antrel, we’re going to put you down in the slot just like your position last year. Not saying it’s going to be permanent but we need you to get some reps there." Merritt said.
However, the ideal situation for the Giants would be for either Justin Tryon or Jayron Hosley to step up play in the slot. If either player performs well enough throughout the duration of training camp and preseason games, the team would surely prefer to let Rolle focus solely on his responsibilities at safety.
Rolle's size and above-average athleticism make him an invaluable presence in the middle of the field. His ability to take great angles on both rushing and passing plays enable him to make plays on the ball consistently throughout the course of the game. Putting him at the nickel cornerback limits his ability to do what he's good at.
Furthermore, if Rolle is going to play nickel corner in 2012, the need to find a third safety becomes more apparent. With the suspension of Tyler Sash, the only remaining safeties on the roster are undrafted rookie free agents Will Hill and Janzen Jackson. Although Will Hill's athleticism has dramatically improved his candidacy, the return of 32 year old Deon Grant is also an option. While it would be ideal for some of the younger players to step up, Grants veteran leadership might not be a bad influence on the team.
Hopefully, Terrell Thomas can return this season and become a key contributor. However, in his absence, Jerry Reese has assembled a young, capable, and versatile group of defensive backs that are more the willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. It will be interesting to see where the team has Antrel Rolle line up as the season gets underway.
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