- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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On paper, following their flurry of free-agent activity this week, the defensive backfield is the strength of the New York Giants' roster. We say "on paper," because it's March 19 and paper's all we have. The Giants don't play a real game for another five-plus months, which means all we can do is project what we think will happen based on the way everything looks from this far out.
So let's. Let's take a look at the Giants' new secondary, piece-by-piece, to get everybody fired up about how much better it has a chance to be in 2014. Assuming, of course, that they haven't improved it at the expense of the pass rush. Which they may have. But that's a different story for another time. This is about the secondary, whose members now include:
Antrel Rolle, safety: The lone remaining defensive captain, Rolle should be well served by the addition of all this cornerback depth. He's been asked to handle too much cornerback duty the past several years due to injuries and depth issues at that position. With everyone they now have at corner, Rolle should be able to stick to safety as he prefers. He's a leader on the Giants' defense, which is the main reason he was never a real candidate to be cut in spite of his whopping $9.25 million cap number. Ideally, he'll be able to switch off seamlessly between strong safety and free safety in the Giants' defensive scheme because his fellow starting safety will be able to handle either role.
Prince Amukamara, CB: I believe Amukamara is a good player. His technique is good, he's willing to mix it up physically, he can tackle, he's willing to help out against the run. Smart, studies hard, keeps himself in excellent shape... solid, all-around player. What I do not think he is is a star cornerback, a "shutdown" type who you can put on the other team's best receiver and expect him to take the guy out of the game. Not a knock, mind you -- there are very few guys like that. Just saying that I think the additions around him will help alleviate some of the pressure and responsibility Amukamara took on himself last year as the team's clear No. 1 corner.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB: He doesn't fit that "shutdown corner" description either, but his speed and athleticism enable Rodgers-Cromartie to make spectacular plays and sometimes even outrun his mistakes. The Giants should be able to split the field with him on one side and Amukamara on the other and feel very good about their chances in coverage. Depending on week-by-week matchups, they can isolate Rodgers-Cromartie in coverage as warranted without having to lean on him as a one-on-one difference-maker every week. He looks up to Rolle, his former Arizona Cardinals teammate, and should benefit from that relationship.
Stevie Brown, safety: When training camp 2013 opened, Brown was coming off an eight-interception breakout season and was talking about his development as a player. The hope was he would evolve into the kind of safety who could switch off with Rolle as Kenny Phillips used to do, and Brown and the team were confident he could. Brown tore his ACL in the 2013 preseason and hasn't played since, so his health will be a question mark going into the year. But if he is healthy, he will get a chance to win back that starting safety spot and show off his ballhawking skills again.
Will Hill, safety: He emerged as the starter opposite Rolle as the 2013 season went on after missing the first four games on a drug suspension. Rolle made the Pro Bowl, but I believed Hill was the better player at times in 2013, which is more a compliment to Hill than it is an insult of Rolle's play. The questions with Hill are of off-field issues, but if he's got his life in order away from the football field, he's a force on it. If Hill stays out of trouble and Brown stays healthy, the Giants have enviable safety depth.
Walter Thurmond, CB: He was one of the cornerbacks called upon to fill a larger role in Seattle last year following the drug suspension of Brandon Browner, and it's generally believed the Seahawks' cornerback play improved. Thurmond is an elite-level talent as a slot cornerback, which is the role he'll likely fill with the Giants, but he's also capable of handling himself on the outside should one of the starters get injured.
Trumaine McBride, CB: The Giants were impressed enough with his 2013 work as an injury-replacement starter that they signed him back on a two-year contract. Undersized but extremely determined, McBride showed an ability to handle himself on the outside and can play the slot as well. He'll function as a reliable backup.
Cooper Taylor, safety: Late-round 2013 draft pick is already a helper on special teams, and with all of the veteran safeties they have in front of him, he can take his time developing as a defensive player.
Jayron Hosley, CB: The Giants' 2012 third-rounder has been slow to develop due to health issues. The Giants liked him as a slot corner option when they picked him, but he's got to show a lot to stay in the long-range plans at this point.
Quintin Demps, safety: Signed primarily as a kick returner, he's a last-resort option if injuries dictate that he fill in at safety. He did start six games there for Kansas City in 2013.
Charles James, CB: Saw some work in the return game last preseason, but they have other guys for that now. James has some value as a special teams player but will have to fight his way up the depth chart.