EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Terrell Thomas was all smiles as he walked to the podium Tuesday morning to take questions.
Training camp is a necessary evil for many players. But Thomas was less than two hours away from participating in an NFL practice, for the first time in a long time.
The 28-year-old cornerback has missed the past two seasons because of injuries to his right knee. And he suffered a strained hamstring during the team's conditioning test on the first day of camp. But Thomas was activated off the PUP list Tuesday and cleared to play.
"It’s exciting," Thomas said. "A lot of people have been rooting for me and I’m happy just to be in this position, and to be blessed to have another opportunity. But this is just Day 1. It’s a long road ahead of me, I know that."
Thomas was drafted by the Giants in the second round in 2008 out of USC. He started 31 of 32 games for Big Blue in 2009 and 2010, with five interceptions each season.
But in August 2011, he tore an ACL during a preseason game against the Bears. And during camp last summer he re-injured the same knee, which caused him to miss a second consecutive season.
When asked what kept him going through such a long and challenging rehab process, Thomas had a long list.
"The doubters, the people telling you that you can’t do it, my daughter, my family, my fans," Thomas said.
"So many people are going through a lot more," Thomas said. "When I was rehabbing in Pensacola, there was this lady who got in a car accident and she had her 28th surgery and was still smiling and kicking -- it motivated me. I was down there with the Wounded Warrior Project with some of the military people -- a guy served for 15 years and got shot for the first time. He was having a hard time, but he was still fighting through it. It’s just little things like that that help you find a way to motivate yourself."
Thomas only got limited reps during Tuesday's practice, as the Giants ease him back into the mix. The question is, can Thomas return to the level of play he exhibited back in 2009 and 2010?
"Only God can answer that," Thomas said. "I’ve worked really hard. My numbers are not too far off. I’ve been training hard. My upper body is a lot stronger to really help me out in my press or my technique. If I lost a step, who knows how my body’s going to respond? But as far as training with other athletes, until I get out there on the field, I truly don’t know what I can do."
Said coach Tom Coughlin: "Well, I think the major thing is to get him on the field, get him practicing, bring him along accordingly, and then let him indicate or show us. He’s here for a reason. He’s been an outstanding football player. We think he can be again."
There has been talk the Giants might switch Thomas to safety, but Coughlin said Tuesday the Giants still consider Thomas a cornerback. There's plenty of competition at that position. Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara, last year's starters, are back. The team brought back Aaron Ross after a year in Jacksonville, too.
Thomas sounds willing to play any position. "I’m coming back as a football player," he said. "I don’t know what they’re going to do with me. We’ve talked about the safety role, the nickel role, the corner role. I think it’s whatever I can take on. I think the sky’s the limit."
The Giants' first preseason game is Saturday night in Pittsburgh. Thomas won't be ready to play in that one, but he hopes to be ready for the regular season opener on Sept. 8.
"My goal is Week 1, without a doubt," Thomas said. "I know everything, I just have to get back out there and show that I can still play this game."