EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott off to the side nursing hamstring injuries and David Wilson out in California getting his neck looked at and Andre Brown not eligible to play until Week 10, the New York Giants were a little bit thin at running back in Monday's practice. This fact was pointed out to a surprisingly whimsical coach Tom Coughlin.
The impact of Conner, who had a big night blocking for Jacobs on Thursday in Chicago, is not to be overlooked. And while Wilson could well be out for the season, Coughlin said the team was holding Jacobs out as a precaution and he believed Jacobs would practice Thursday. But if Jacobs can't play in next Monday night's game against the Vikings, the workload is likely to fall to the rookie Cox, who was the next-to-last pick in this year's draft. Coughlin said the Giants feel good about some things with Cox and not so good about others and "we're working on the not so." Reading between the lines, it sounds as though they want Cox to show he can handle himself in pass protection before they're willing to give him more carries.
"He's young, and it's sophisticated and complex, the things that are thrown at him, particularly in the protection area," Coughlin said. "So you've got to be careful."
This is not new, this concept. Pass protection concerns were the main thing that kept Wilson out of the lineup in his 2012 rookie season, and were as much an unspoken concern about him early this year as the fumbling problems were a spoken one. The Giants released Ahmad Bradshaw, the best pass-protection back in the league, in the offseason for cap reasons, and they believed Brown could fill that role until he broke his leg in a preseason game. They've struggled to fill the role ever since, and they've even hesitated to use Jacobs on third downs in spite of his extensive knowledge of the protection schemes.
"They're definitely harder here than in college," Cox said. "But I feel like I understand it now."
So while it might be easy to look from the outside at Cox and see an explosive young runner who deserves a chance to show what he can do in a lost season, it's not that simple for the Giants. Protection of quarterback Eli Manning remains a higher priority than rushing yards, and especially with the health and other issues they've had on the offensive line, that's not going to change any time soon.
If you see Cox in the game a lot Monday, it's almost certainly because the Giants had no other choice. But if he starts to earn a larger role even once Jacobs is fully healthy, that's how you'll know they've started to trust him more in pass protection. That's the only real clear path to carries for a Giants running back, and that's not new.