New York Giants: Antrel Rolle

Today we release the No. 71-80 ranked players on offense and defense in our #NFLRank project, and checking in at No. 79 on the defense list is New York Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Based on what they paid to sign Rodgers-Cromartie for themselves and keep him from going to the Jets, the Giants hope he's considerably higher on this list next August.

Rodgers-Cromartie ranks 10th among NFL cornerbacks and 23rd among all defensive backs on our list, and he's already moving up. He was unranked when we did this project a year ago and he was coming off the Philadelphia Eagles' 2012 meltdown season. But after a strong year helping the Broncos reach the Super Bowl, Rodgers-Cromartie is seen as someone coming into his vast potential.

He's long been viewed as an extremely talented player athletically, but he hasn't always been consistent. The Giants signed him to a five-year, $35 million contract with $13.98 million guaranteed because they believe he's a shutdown cornerback capable of covering the opponent's top wide receiver every week. To this point in his career, he has not shown a consistent ability to be that, but that's the way they plan to use him and they believe he'll flourish in that role under the guidance of Giants safety and former Cardinals teammate Antrel Rolle (No. 83 on this list, as discussed Tuesday).

Can he do it? The answer will determine a lot about this Giants season and maybe the seasons to come. The Giants love him in coverage. He's aggressive but not overly so, and he uses his speed and athleticism to help himself correct mistakes. They're working with him on his press technique so he's stronger at the line of scrimmage (where you're still allowed to make contact with the receiver), and they believe he's coming along in that area. This could go either way, due to the nature of the player and the position. But my feeling is that Rodgers-Cromartie will either be much higher or much lower on this list when we do it again in 2015.

 
There's no shortage of poor personnel decisions that led the New York Giants to last year's 7-9 record and their subsequent roster rebuild, but signing safety Antrel Rolle to a five-year, $37 million contract in 2010 was among the better moves in recent franchise history.

We've ranked NFL players -- a top 100 on offense and another on defense -- and we're rolling out the results 20 at a time (10 on offense, 10 on defense) per day. Today brings us players No. 81-90 on either side of the ball, and Rolle checking in at No. 83 on defense offers a chance to reflect on just what he's turned out to be for the Giants.

Rolle is the No. 13-ranked safety and the No. 25-ranked defensive back on this list, but quibbling about whether he should be ranked ahead of Donte Whitner on the former list or Johnathan Joseph on the latter doesn't interest me too much. Rolle's value to the Giants has been diverse and significant, and it rises beyond stats and on-field performance.

Rolle arrived in New York at the age of 27 and chafed under coach Tom Coughlin's rigid, old-school structure. But he grew quickly, and he and Coughlin proved wise enough to realize they could be of great benefit to each other. Over the past three seasons Rolle has developed as a team leader, captain and spokesman, and he handles the role gracefully and naturally. Sure, he says crazy things on the radio sometimes. But these days they're almost always about how great he thinks his team is, and that's a perfectly acceptable method for a leader to try to keep his teammates in a productive frame of mind.

On the field, Rolle has played opposite three different starting safeties the past three years, and all three have flourished. He teamed with Kenny Phillips (who predated and helped mentor him as a Giant) in the Super Bowl season of 2011. Stevie Brown replaced an injured Phillips in 2012 and collected eight interceptions, roaming the post safety position while Rolle played up in the box because he knew how and Brown hadn't learned it yet. Will Hill replaced an injured Brown in 2013 and became one of the best playmaking safeties in the league by season's end before smoking himself out of a job this spring.

Rolle has been a constant in a Giants secondary that's seen its share of ups and downs over the past four years. And last year, largely freed from the nickel corner responsibilities he willingly assumed so often early in his Giants career, he flourished as a playmaker in his own right and earned a Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii. His coaches say he's just coming into his own as a safety, at age 31, because this is the first time since he signed with the Giants that he's been able to focus on the position exclusively. They believe he'll get the best out of his former Cardinals teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of their big free-agent cornerback signings, and Rolle has a track record that backs up that belief.

One of the best 100 defensive players in the NFL? Nobody in the Giants' building would disagree. Rolle's as solid an acquisition as any they've made over the past 10 years.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of all the disappointments in the New York Giants' hugely disappointing 2013 season, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks may have stood out the most. The team's 2009 first-round pick went the entire year without a touchdown, got benched for a critical November game against the Cowboys and was allowed to leave as a free agent without any effort being made to re-sign him. An ugly and surprising end in New York for a Super Bowl hero who'd previously been counted among the hardest-working and productive on the team.

Nicks
Nicks landed with the Indianapolis Colts, and coincidentally the Giants are headed to Indianapolis for their next preseason game Saturday night. Nicks still has plenty of friends on the team, and they're looking forward to a reunion.

"Always good to see Hakeem," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said Wednesday. "And I think he landed in a blessed situation. Most important, alongside [veteran Colts receiver] Reggie Wayne. I'm a longtime friend of Reggie Wayne's, and I understand his work ethic and his craft. Hakeem having someone above him to lay down the foundation, lay the law down, is going to help him improve his game that much more."

Interesting point. Even once Victor Cruz emerged, Nicks was kind of the most seasoned and veteran receiver on the Giants during a time when he was still quite young. Heck, he's still only 26. Being part of a receiving corps that has the veteran Wayne and the emerging young T.Y. Hilton could be a benefit to Nicks if one of his problems last year was dealing with pressure.

Either way, as nice as it'll be for Rolle to see Nicks, he'll also be trying to stop him.

"I'm excited to see Hakeem, but there are no friends out there on the field, and I know he understands that," Rolle said. "I know he feels the same way about us. This is home for him. I'm just looking forward to the game. It's going to be a great battle."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Hey there! What better way to spend the morning of the New York Giants' second preseason game than by reading through a mailbag produced by your use of the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter? I think it was Churchill who said that, but I'm not 100 percent sure. Anyways.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Brown looks just fine, as though nothing ever happened. The knee injury happened during a preseason game last year, so he's had just about a full year to recover, and he was at the Giants' facility throughout last season and through the winter and spring rehabbing the knee. Brown told me recently that it was January or February when he jumped to catch a ball in a rehab drill and landed hard on his left leg without even thinking about it. Since then he's felt good, and he's practicing in full as though it never happened. The Giants want to be able to switch him and Antrel Rolle off, and so we have seen Brown playing down in the box more against the run than he did when he was Mr. Interception in 2012. So far, so good with Stevie.

@DanGrazianoESPN: There's no real replacing what David Wilson would have brought to the run game had his career not ended this week because of repeated neck injuries. There's no other back on the roster who has anything resembling Wilson's uncommon speed or explosiveness. It's not as though they'll just plug Andre Williams or Michael Cox or Kendall Gaskins or Peyton Hillis into the plays that were designed for Wilson. Rashad Jennings is the clear starter at running back, and my sense from 30 days out is that they'd love it if the rookie Williams could advance to the point where he's the No. 2. If he can't, then it's Hillis (assuming he heals from a sprained ankle in time) or someone else -- maybe even someone not yet on the team. But as far as the back who goes in when Jennings needs a break, my sense is they'd love for it to be Williams, but he has to show them he's ready to handle that responsibility. He runs quite well with the ball in his hands, but he's not really a complete back in terms of being able to contribute in the passing game just yet. How quickly he develops in that area will determine how much they can use him this year.

@DanGrazianoESPN: We're doing roster projections every Monday morning throughout camp, and so far all of mine have had five wide receivers. This is because I believe the Giants want to carry four tight ends and a fullback, and even with only two quarterbacks, that really only leaves room for five wide receivers. Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan are sure things, and at this point I'd probably give the fifth spot to Marcus Harris. But the remaining weeks could obviously change things and even expand that group to six. They want to keep four tight ends, but given what they have there, it's entirely possible they could decide they don't have four worth keeping and they're better off adding an extra wideout instead. On the flip side, if their tight ends show enough in the intervening weeks, they could decide to go without a fullback and add another wideout. So as of now, I think five, but it could end up being six depending on how things shake out with the other position groups.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I think the most impressive player in Giants camp so far is cornerback Walter Thurmond, who's been making life miserable for slot receiver Victor Cruz in practice. Thurmond could be a difference-maker at that nickel corner position for the Giants this year. The most disappointing is obviously first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr., who hasn't practiced since the first day because of a hamstring injury. Ditto return man Trindon Holliday, who also remains out with a hamstring injury and now looks unlikely to make the team. And while I don't think expectations for him were overly high, I haven't see Brandon Mosley do very much with his opportunity to handle the starting right guard spot. Though I guess there you'd also have to say injured John Jerry is a disappointment because he can't get on the field to challenge Mosley for that spot. Thanks for the questions. I'll chat at you from the MetLife Stadium press box in a few hours. 
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a day Stevie Brown remembers, back in January and February, when he was catching passes from New York Giants assistant trainer Leigh Weiss in the indoor facility here. Weiss threw one high, and Brown went up to catch it and came down hard on his left leg, which is the leg in which he'd had surgery last fall to repair a torn ACL in his knee. Brown landed hard and kept running as though nothing had happened, and when he looked up, Weiss was smiling.

"So," Weiss said. "I guess you're not worried about it anymore."

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
AP Photo/Seth WenigStevie Brown appears to be back to full strength after an ACL injury cost him the 2013 season.
That's the moment to which Brown points when asked when he stopped worrying about his knee and knew he could once again be the player he used to be. The Giants' safety collected eight interceptions in a breakout 2012 season and was poised to begin 2013 as a full-time starter when he tore up his knee in a preseason game. After that, he said, he had to re-learn everything.

"You're forced to take a step back, and you have to rebuild your game as you're getting healthier," Brown said before Giants practice Thursday. "There are some things that I excelled at in the past that took a while to get back before I could just break-and-cut, break-and-cut. I had to start off with the little things -- coming downhill, addressing myself like I was going to be in the run game, just basic football patterns rather than going out right away and getting in deep thirds and breaking off. I had to start by making sure I could come to balance, breaking down in the tackling game, shifting one way, shifting the other way, things like that.

"Just a big, gradual process to get back to where I am now."

Where he is now is on the practice field, doing everything he would normally be doing to get ready for a football season if he'd never injured his knee in the first place. Brown said there's extra work that goes on off the field -- he has to do extra leg workouts to make sure to keep the muscles around his left knee strong. But once he's on the field, he said he believes he's able to do everything he used to be able to do.

"He worked really hard," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He was here every day in the summer and throughout the entire offseason. So he's worked hard to get himself back on the field, and the work has obviously paid off. But the process of making him stronger, getting him to the games is still going to be important."

With Will Hill suspended and released, the Giants are a bit thin at safety. Brown and Antrel Rolle project as the starters, with Quintin Demps behind them and a pair of fifth-round picks from the past two seasons -- Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe -- behind him. If Brown weren't able to play at full strength, the Giants would suddenly have a big problem at the position. Fortunately for them, at this point, he feels as good as ever.

"I'm able to do everything right now," Brown said. "No limitations to anything. I take all the reps that they want me to take and just go out there and do everything I need to do."

Giants Camp Report: Day 4

July, 25, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:


  • Man, the Giants' offense looks like hot garbage right now. Eli Manning threw a ball so badly to Jerrel Jernigan that Antrel Rolle and Prince Amukamara almost killed each other as they collided to try to intercept it. Ryan Nassib (to Charles James) and Curtis Painter (to Mark Herzlich) also threw picks. There was a play in which Manning tripped over the feet of running back Rashad Jennings and fell to the ground. (He got right up, don't worry.) Kendall Gaskins fumbled a ball and coach Tom Coughlin began screaming and cursing at the top of his lungs, wheeling on the offensive players who were standing on the sideline and not in the drill and yelling, "Hang onto the [bleep-bleep] ball!" over and over. Mario Manningham beat Walter Thurmond on a slant route for a nice catch, but Thurmond stayed with the play and knocked the ball out of his hands. I mean, ugly. Still way early, but tough to watch.
  • This was the first day they practiced in shoulder pads, and the first thing I saw when I went out to the field to watch was rookie running back Andre Williams absolutely lay out linebacker Justin Anderson in a one-on-one kick-return drill. It was as though Williams was taking out all of his frustrations about Thursday's dropped passes on poor Anderson. But everyone was feisty. At the end of one drill, linebacker Dan Fox playfully tackled GM Jerry Reese, who was watching by the goal post.
  • Things that are real that you wouldn't have expected: Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard is a guy the coaches and other players continue to rave about, and Brandon McManus remains a threat to take the kicker's job from Josh Brown. McManus is 8-for-8 on field goals so far, was making them easily from long distance Friday and looks more powerful on kickoffs, which ends up mattering to coaches in a big way when these decisions are made. If it's close on the field goals, they take the guy who can kick it out of the back of the end zone. Field position matters.
  • Still no Odell Beckham Jr., and no word on when his hamstring will allow him to practice. Yes, the Giants are frustrated that their first-round pick is not on the field.
  • Keep an eye on Preston Parker, a third-year wide receiver out of Florida State who had legal trouble in college and has bounced around. The Giants are using him a lot with the first-team offense and on returns.

Giants roster preview: Safeties

July, 17, 2014
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During the week of June 30, we took a position-by-position look at the New York Giants' offense heading into training camp. This week, we've done the same thing with the defense -- one position group at a time. Today, with a mere four days left until the Giants report for camp, is the final installment -- safeties.

Projected starters: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown

Projected backups: Quintin Demps, Cooper Taylor, Nat Berhe

Others fighting for roster spots: Kyle Sebetic, Thomas Gordon, C.J. Barnett

Brown says he feels good coming off the knee surgery that cost him a chance to start alongside his Pro Bowl mentor Rolle in 2013. He's been eager for a while now to follow up on his breakout eight-interception 2012 season, and the Giants are hoping his knee allows him to do that. If it does not, thanks to the suspension and release of Will Hill, things could get thin here in a hurry. Demps was signed more as a kickoff returner than a safety, but at this point he's the clear No. 3 when they want to go to their three-safety defense, and he's the projected substitute starter if Rolle or Brown can't play.

Behind Demps are two recent fifth-round picks -- Taylor from 2013 and Berhe from this year. Given the Giants' numbers at cornerback, it's hard to see them carrying five safeties, so it's possible both guys can't make the team and they might have to try to put Berhe on the practice squad. They do like Taylor, who had injuries last season but has come back larger and stronger this year and could have an opportunity for more playing time if he shows he can handle it.

Camp preview: New York Giants

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Dan Graziano examines the three biggest issues facing the New York Giants heading into training camp.

The new offense: All eyes are on new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and a Giants offense that's likely to look much different from the one quarterback Eli Manning ran for his first 10 years in the NFL. The fact that Manning was able to bounce back from his ankle surgery and participate in organized team activities and minicamp was a huge help to the learning process, but it's still an extensive and complex process that could conceivably linger into the season. Pay particular attention to the running game, whose concepts seem to be more complex than what the Giants are installing in the passing game. David Wilson said last month that the new offense gives the running backs the ability to "create and dictate" plays, but obviously a lot of that is going to depend on the ability of the offensive line to get the play blocked. There are a lot of questions to be answered on the offense: Who will the starting center be? Who will play tight end? Will Chris Snee be able to hold up at right guard? Can Will Beatty recover in time to start the season? Do the Giants have enough at wide receiver? Is Wilson healthy enough to be a factor in the run game? But central to everything is the ability of the players on the field to smoothly integrate themselves into a new system -- and to do so in time for the start of the regular season.

The defensive line. The Giants let 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck and top defensive tackle Linval Joseph go in free agency. They believe that Jason Pierre-Paul is healthy for the first time since October of 2012 and can dominate from the defensive end position the way he did in 2011. And they believe that young defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn are ready to take the next developmental steps needed to absorb Joseph's workload and stuff up the middle against opposing run games. But they'll need Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore or Robert Ayers to emerge as a reasonable pass-rush threat on the other side to keep offenses' attention away from Pierre-Paul. And without injured middle linebacker Jon Beason around for camp and possibly the start of the season to get and keep things organized in the front seven, it would help if someone from the defensive line group could fill at least part of the vast leadership void created by Tuck's departure.

Team chemistry. The Giants don't go away for training camp anymore. They have camp right at the same East Rutherford, N.J., practice facility where they do their work during the regular season. They'll stay in a hotel as if they were away for camp, and they'll spend long days together in meeting rooms, on the field and in the cafeteria. But one of the big stories of this Giants season is the ability of the coaching staff to integrate a group of new players into the team culture and find leaders to replace guys like Tuck, Terrell Thomas, Kevin Boothe and David Diehl, who are no longer around to serve as locker room pillars. The Giants are counting on the ability of venerable head coach Tom Coughlin and his staff to do that, and they believe Beason and Antrel Rolle have emerged in recent years as big-time leaders on and off the field. But the vibe in the locker room is going to be different with so many new faces in place and so many familiar ones gone. It will be fascinating to see how that all comes together, and whether one offseason and one training camp is enough to make it all work.
One last New York Giants Twitter mailbag before I start a too-brief summer vacation ... @DanGrazianoESPN: Yeah, I think that's a fair expectation, and I think you saw the Giants lean that way last year with Terrell Thomas as the regular nickel corner. They signed Walter Thurmond to play that position, and he's as good at it as anyone in the league. And they're thin at safety with Will Hill suspended and released, Stevie Brown coming off knee surgery and Quintin Demps having been signed primarily to return kicks. They have been talking a lot about keeping Antrel Rolle at safety, rather than using him all over the field as they've done in years past, and obviously sticking with a three-cornerback look would help with that. I honestly don't see the need for the old three-safety package, especially if Jon Beason is back healthy at middle linebacker early in the season. It worked well during that 2011 Super Bowl season, but that year they were thin at cornerback and linebacker and deep at safety. You're right if your point is that the scheme should be based around the personnel, and right now cornerback is a Giants strength. @DanGrazianoESPN: With Beason nursing a foot injury, the starting middle linebacker in training camp (and probably for Week 1) is going to be Jameel McClain. He projects as the starting strongside linebacker if Beason's healthy, but he's taking over in the middle while he's not. Jacquian Williams is the front-runner for the starting weakside linebacker spot, and the strongside position should belong to either Spencer Paysinger or rookie Devon Kennard, who impressed coaches with his minicamp performance. As for receivers, that's an interesting case. My first thought is that they keep six -- Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Mario Manningham, Odell Beckham Jr., Jerrel Jernigan and Trindon Holliday. But Holliday isn't really likely to factor as a receiver, as he's pretty much exclusively a kick and punt returner. So that would leave them with five real receivers (four if Manningham's knee won't let him answer the bell). That opens it up for someone like a Marcus Harris, Julian Talley or Corey Washington to possibly sneak onto the roster with a good camp, but that's a long shot. @DanGrazianoESPN: Based on my conversations with Giants people (and with Will Beatty himself) last year and this spring, I think the main reason Beatty struggled was technique. He's not a big, monstrous, mauling left tackle who relies on strength and an ability to overpower people. Beatty's success, when he's had it, has had more to do with quickness and athleticism. I was told last season while he was struggling that Beatty was playing with his hands too low, giving away leverage and hurting his ability to dictate his matchups. That sounds like an easy thing to fix, but bad habits are tough to break, and as the year went along the struggles got into Beatty's head. He admitted in December that he'd felt the weight of his free-agent contract and let the pressure get to him, and I think he was looking forward to an offseason to clear his head. The problem is that Beatty's offseason has been about recovery from that broken leg he suffered in the Week 17 game against the Redskins, and he hasn't had time to practice getting back into good habits. I agree that a Beatty rebound would have a positive ripple effect along the rest of the line, but at this point you have to consider him a major question mark, and not just because of the injury. @DanGrazianoESPN: The firing of their longtime tight ends coach does rank among the more surprising moves of the Giants' offseason. But when they hired young Ben McAdoo as their new offensive coordinator, it was only fair to assume he'd want to bring in a few of his own coaches and help construct the staff. During those discussions, it was decided that Pope's position would be one of the ones to turn over. They moved wide receivers coach Kevin M. Gilbride (the son of the former offensive coordinator) to tight ends coach, Sean Ryan from quarterbacks coach back to wide receivers coach and hired Danny Langsdorf as the new quarterbacks coach. Pope was a Giants icon, and the only person whose name is on all four of the franchise's Super Bowl trophies. But there was an effort to get a bit younger on the coaching staff this offseason. Tight end Adrien Robinson spoke during OTAs about how he's felt a different kind of connection with the younger Gilbride than he did with Pope, and if that's the case with the rest of the group it might answer your question. Thanks for all of your questions. If you need me, I'm on the golf course.
The goal for New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara last year was a simple one: Stay healthy and play all 16 games. This had been a problem for Amukamara in his first two NFL seasons, so the Giants made it clear to him before 2013 started that his focus should be on durability and availability.

Amukamara
"And he did that," secondary coach Peter Guinta said last week at the end of the team's minicamp. "He played all 16 games, every game getting better. You could see him improving by being out there. He understands the defense better. He's much more comfortable here. And now he's starting to take some chances and make some plays because of that comfort. He's really starting to grow up that way, where he understands the game."

The Giants' 2011 first-round pick, Amukamara has been a solid player when healthy but only has three interceptions in his three NFL seasons. He has said he'd like to make more of an impact as a playmaker, and Giunta described a practice play from last week on which Amukamara jumped a Victor Cruz "in" route and helped Antrel Rolle intercept Eli Manning.

"Now he's starting to gamble a bit and take some chances, which you like to see because you want guys thinking, 'Hey, I'm going to make a play,'" Giunta said. "He's evolved that confidence in himself and the defense, and he knows what's coming."

Amukamara himself said last week that he feels different this year without former Giants corners Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross in the locker room. He credits those guys with helping educate him about playing -- and playing cornerback -- in the NFL and believes their absence marks a key point in his own career and development.

"I feel like those guys sharpened me. They really helped me learn and grow," Amukamara said. "Now, I feel like it's my turn to take that big step on my own and be a leader and up my game. I'm the oldest cornerback here among the guys who have been here. That feels kind of weird, but it lets you know, 'Okay, it's time to take it up a notch.'"

The Giants picked up Amukamara's option for 2015, which means they have him for about $7 million that season if they want him but can cut him without penalty prior to Week 1 of 2015. They also signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie long-term and Walter Thurmond for one year and are very deep at the position for 2014. Amukamara knows his future with the team is uncertain, and he's eager to prove he's worth a long-term commitment from them.
Last year was a big year for New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle. He was named a defensive team captain. He made it to the Pro Bowl. He seemed to take yet another step forward in his surprising mid-career evolution as a reliable leader in the locker room. And on the field, he was one of the most reliable performers the Giants had on either side of the ball.

But to hear his position coach tell it, Rolle is still developing as a safety and is likely to get even better this year and beyond.

"Antrel is just now starting to understand and develop as a safety," Giants safeties coach Dave Merritt said Thursday. "He was a corner, as we all know, when he was drafted out of Miami. Now all of a sudden he's a safety, and he's starting to understand the position more so than ever. Before, as far as formations, he didn't see formations. He didn't really see the route concepts. Now, the last two years, it's all coming together for him and he's feeling more comfortable. So with Antrel's ability to continue to learn and grow, he hasn't really scratched his ability as a safety yet. Last year was a glimpse of what Antrel could actually become."

Odd stuff to say about a 31-year-old player entering his 10th NFL season and the final year of his contract with the team. But Merritt pointed out that Rolle wasn't strictly a safety even in his first couple of years with the Giants, who used him in a variety of roles from 2010-12 as needs dictated.

"The first couple of years, you all know, we played him at nickel, we played him at 'Bison,' we played him at corner, we played him at safety," Merritt said. "Now he's able to just play strictly safety, and it's coming together for him well."

Merritt said he recently told Rolle he thought he could play another four years. The safety position is a major question mark for the Giants this year and in years to come. Rolle is a free agent at the end of this year. Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps are signed to one-year contracts. Will Hill was recently released following his third drug suspension in as many years. They can't know yet what they have in 2013 fifth-round pick Cooper Taylor or 2014 fifth-round pick Nat Berhe. Depending on the way this season goes, the Giants could find themselves needing to sign Rolle to another free-agent contract just to stabilize things for them at the position. Or they could find themselves starting over with a whole new crew.

In the meantime, though, the Giants' sudden depth at cornerback should enable Rolle to stay firmly planted at safety this year. And his coaches believe he'll continue to grow, improve and thrive there as a result.
We get back out to New York Giants OTAs on Thursday this week, but until then we have to rely on information the team puts out about who looks good in practice and who's playing in what roles. So here's a link to today's Giants.com OTA report, which mentions a few specifics. This one caught my eye:
McClain
4. Jameel McClain is a great wingman for Jon Beason at linebacker. He flashes the same leadership qualities and has a good eye for defensive adjustments, often barking out audibles based on what the offense is showing.

Obviously, it's no surprise that the team's official web site has positive things to say, but part of the reason the Giants signed McClain is that he's a veteran who's played at a high level in a winning organization (Baltimore) and has been a leader on defense in the past. Having lost Justin Tuck and Terrell Thomas, two of the more vocal on-field and off-field leaders their defense had, the Giants wanted to bring in someone who could help get and keep things organized. Antrel Rolle does a good job of that in the secondary, and Beason ran things in the front seven after coming over in the trade with Carolina, but the more help on this front, the better.

The Giants are obviously a roster in tremendous flux, and one of the major questions is the extent to which all of the new pieces will fit together. If McClain can be the kind of player and leader who can help with that, he'll have a value to them beyond what a lot of people may have been expecting when he signed.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year ago at this time, when the New York Giants were holding their offseason practices, their first-team safeties were Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown. A fair bit has happened since then. Brown tore his ACL in preseason and missed all of 2013 following surgery. Will Hill returned from a four-game drug suspension and emerged as one of the best players on the Giants' defense. The team re-signed Brown and signed safety Quintin Demps. Hill is in trouble again and is in the midst of an appeal of what would be a third drug suspension in three years.

Brown
So after all of that, as the Giants go through their offseason practices this year, their first-team safeties are, once again, Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown.

"I knew this was where I wanted to be, and wherever I fell on the depth chart is where I fell," said Brown, who signed a one-year deal to return to the Giants in March. "Right now, they have me next to 'Trel, so I'm staying next to 'Trel."

After Brown collected eight interceptions in 2012 in a surprisingly effective relief performance for Kenny Phillips, the Giants made their 2013 offseason plans around the idea of him as a starter. He and Rolle worked together to get to the point where Brown could play in the box more and allow the two of them to switch off roles during games as defensive coordinator Perry Fewell prefers. But the injury derailed that plan, and when Brown re-signed it looked like a make-good type of deal -- low-risk for the Giants but potentially helpful if Brown could get healthy, and especially if Hill got in trouble again.

Brown says he feels healthy, and though he's monitoring his knee and taking it easier than he might normally this time of year, he believes he's good to go for 2014 as a starting safety for the Giants.

"It hasn't really bothered me, so I'll just keep going," Brown said. "For what we're doing right now, I feel good. I know I can do better."

It remains to be seen what happens with Hill, but it's entirely possible the opportunity Brown had taken away from him last August could come right back for him this September.

Rolle played major role in DRC signing

May, 20, 2014
May 20
7:30
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Four weeks ago, at the New York Giants' first player availability of the offseason, Walter Thurmond boasted that the team's secondary could be better than the Seahawks' Legion of Boom, and Antrel Rolle said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be the best cornerback in the NFL.

There were no such proclamations this Tuesday, during the team's second availability of the spring. But Rodgers-Cromartie did talk to reporters, and sounds bullish about the Giants' defense come this fall.

Rolle
Rodgers-Cromartie
"It can be real good," he said. "Not even from just a secondary standpoint -- I look at going through these drills with the linebackers, they definitely understand the coverages and how to drop. So I think that'll be helpful, when your linebackers and secondary are of one accord."

Rodgers-Cromartie signed a five-year, $39 million contract ($15 million guaranteed) with the Giants back in March, after also meeting with the New York Jets, and said Tuesday that his decision was not an easy one.

"It was very difficult," he said. "You visit both teams, and both teams seem really, really interested in you. But at the end of the day, I felt comfortable coming over here just with the things that were being said and that were going to be done -- I just felt that would better help me as a football player."

It sounds like Rolle's influence was key. The two were teammates with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 and 2009.

"He just hit me up and said a couple things that hit home," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He was like, 'I think you can be this and that in our system, and the coaches and everybody else will help you get to it, just buy into it.'"

A former first-round pick back in 2008, with 19 interceptions in six seasons, Rodgers-Cromartie is now on his fourth NFL team -- and he's hoping to stay awhile this time around. He said he's been sitting next to Rolle in team meetings, to speed his learning of the new terminology.

He also admits hearing what Rolle said about him last month, and appreciates the compliment, but will let his play do the talking.

"Whenever you've got somebody that believes in you, you want to go out there and just go that much harder," Rodgers-Cromartie said, "kind of not be a letdown and hold up your end of the bargain."

Giants depth chart: Defense

May, 16, 2014
May 16
1:00
PM ET
A look at the New York Giants' depth chart on the defensive side of the ball following free agency and the draft.

Right defensive end
Jason Pierre-Paul
Damontre Moore

Pierre-Paul
Entirely possible, of course, that Moore could play his way into a starting spot on the other side. The Giants' defensive end situation is in flux after Pierre-Paul, whom they hope is finally fully healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons.

Left defensive end
Mathias Kiwanuka
Robert Ayers

Wide open here, but these are the two run-stopping defensive ends who likely will vie for the difficult task of replacing Justin Tuck on the side opposite Pierre-Paul.

Right defensive tackle
Cullen Jenkins
Mike Patterson
Jay Bromley

It will be interesting to see whether Bromley, whose 10 sacks from an interior line position last year at Syracuse caught the Giants' attention, can force his way into the defensive tackle rotation as a rookie.

Left defensive tackle
Johnathan Hankins
Markus Kuhn
Jay Bromley

The Giants are counting on Hankins being able to take on a larger role in his second year after they let 25-year-old mainstay Linval Joseph leave via free agency.

Beason
Middle linebacker
Jon Beason
Mark Herzlich
Devon Kennard

Beason was re-signed to play this position and to help run the defense as the player who makes the calls and sets the alignment in the front seven. Fifth-round pick Kennard's future, to the extent that he has one, could be here or on the strong side. He'd have to be a special teams ace, though, to push Herzlich out at this point.

Weakside linebacker
Jacquian Williams
Spencer Paysinger
Spencer Adkins

Williams or Paysinger could be the starter here, and they also could split snaps as situations and opponents dictate.

Strongside linebacker
Jameel McClain
Kendrick Adams
Devon Kennard

The Giants also can use Paysinger on this side if need be. But this is the role for which they signed former Ravens starter McClain.

Rodgers-Cromartie
Left cornerback
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Walter Thurmond
Trumaine McBride
Zack Bowman

Coach Tom Coughlin has said Rodgers-Cromartie will cover the opposing team's best wide receiver each week. Thurmond is likely to play the slot corner position primarily but can play outside if need be.

Right cornerback
Prince Amukamara
Walter Thurmond
Charles James
Bennett Jackson

It's a big year for Amukamara, whose 2015 option was picked up but still isn't guaranteed. Thurmond is on a one-year deal and could end up replacing him if he outplays him.

Slot cornerback
Walter Thurmond
Jayron Hosley

Thurmond
Thurmond is the top slot corner in the league, and if Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara can lock things down on the outside, he'll give the Giants a major matchup advantage in the middle of the field.

Strong safety
Antrel Rolle
Stevie Brown
Cooper Taylor
Quintin Demps

Free safety
Stevie Brown
Will Hill
Nat Berhe

Hill is the starter if his appeal of his latest drug suspension succeeds. If it doesn't, he could be cut outright. Brown can play either safety spot and was slated to be a starter last year before he tore his ACL in the preseason. The Giants may have to bring him along slowly because of the injury, and if he has a setback and Hill is suspended, they could find themselves thin here.

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