- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPNNewYork.com
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Every offseason, Antrel Rolle takes a step back and reflects on the past season and what he has to do for the coming year.
This time, one thing became increasingly clear to the safety -- Rolle knows he has to be more of a leader than ever before for the New York Giants, who report to training camp Friday in East Rutherford, N.J.
Already considered one of the most respected veterans, Rolle realizes the Giants will be looking to him to help replace the leadership lost in the locker room, with Ahmad Bradshaw, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley, Chris Canty, Chase Blackburn and Kenny Phillips all gone.
"I understand pretty much what it takes to be a leader a whole lot more this year, for whatever reason," Rolle, entering his fourth season with the Giants, said at the end of minicamp in June. "I think there are natural-born leaders. Some people try to adapt to it. I know I'm a natural-born leader."
It hasn't always been a smooth ride for the emotional safety, who early on often didn't see eye-to-eye with coach Tom Coughlin's old-school, conservative management style.
Always one to speak his mind, Rolle has griped about a variety of issues, from Coughlin's mandate that the team show up early to the stadium for a night game, to having to cover slot receivers as the nickelback.
Rolle speaks from the heart whenever he believes his words will help the team in the long run. When the Giants were on the brink of missing the playoffs in the 2011 season, Rolle challenged his teammates to practice and play hurt and show complete commitment. That coincided with the Giants' run to the Super Bowl.
Rolle matured during that second season under Coughlin. And like Michael Strahan before him, he went from resisting Coughlin to rallying around and ultimately loving his head coach.
Former team leaders such as Strahan and Antonio Pierce have pointed to Rolle as the one player who had to be the vocal, swagger-filled leader the Giants needed, with captains such as Eli Manning and Justin Tuck leading more by example.
Rolle, 30, has never shied from saying something if he believes it needs to be said, even though it might be controversial. He has the pulse of the team as well as anyone. And entering the 2013 season, Rolle knows his words and actions will have a major impact on the field and in the locker room.
"I think he is ready for it," Tuck said. "I think he has kind of primed himself the last two years to get more and more [vocal]. What's happening is 'Trel now is understanding the Giants' way, the Giants' system.
"He wasn't accustomed to that when he came in ... But now he is a lot smarter with some of the things he says in the media and some of the things he says in the locker room. He's going to be a huge part of our leadership qualities and success."
Rolle used to be frustrated about his week-to-week responsibilities in the game plan. Now, he openly accepts whatever defensive coordinator Perry Fewell needs from him, whether it be playing closer to the line of scrimmage or covering slot receivers -- two responsibilities that take Rolle away from doing what he truly loves, which is roaming the back as a free safety.
His interception numbers aren't what they used to be -- he has five picks in the past three seasons combined after having four in 2009, when he played for the Arizona Cardinals. But he had a team-leading 96 tackles in each of the past two seasons.
And he plays hurt. Rolle has not missed a game with the Giants, despite suffering two torn rotator cuffs. He also labored through a painful knee injury last season after he banged it on a sideline television camera in Week 3 at Carolina.
"My knee was jacked up for about six, seven weeks strong," he said. "At times it was very unstable, felt wobbly. ... I kept needing to get my knee drained throughout the week. It swelled up on me each and every week."
Rolle later added: "Whether I have two torn rotator cuffs, I am still out there not missing a beat. I think that counts for something in this locker room. Even if nothing is said, I know they [Giants players] are watching. Is he a guy that is going to quit? I am not going to be a guy to quit, no matter what the circumstances are."
During the past couple of seasons, Rolle has watched the departure of his two best friends on the team, Deon Grant and Phillips. It's now on Rolle to lead the safeties' unit. And he already has begun by spending as much time as he can in the offseason with fellow starter Stevie Brown to develop the kind of chemistry he had with Grant and Phillips.
Rolle is fully aware that nothing is guaranteed for him beyond this season. He is due $7 million next season, the final year of his contract, and the second-highest 2014 salary on the team behind Manning. If the Giants fail to go far this season, there will be more changes, and Rolle knows he could be a salary-cap casualty, just as what happened with Bradshaw, Canty and Boley.
"I understand the business of the game," Rolle said of seeing them go in a two-day span in February.
"I can't worry about next year," he added. "I am just worried about going out there and being the best safety I can throughout training camp and through the season."
This year, that also entails being the best leader he can be for the Giants. And Rolle understands that more than ever.
Now more than ever, Giants safety Antrel Rolle grasps the need to lead.