EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Antrel Rolle thought he was dreaming.
Upon hearing the sobering news at halftime that fellow defensive back Terrell Thomas had suffered a torn ACL, Rolle wanted to believe he was imagining it all. Unfortunately for the Giants, the reality is that their most productive cornerback likely will miss the season after having his right leg unintentionally taken out by a whirling Jason Pierre-Paul with 22 seconds remaining in the first half.
The injury left the Giants shell-shocked after their 41-13 victory over the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
Rolle thought Thomas was going to be fine after the cornerback told him he was OK while laying on the turf, before getting up and walking with a slight limp to the locker room just before the end of the half.
"I come in here and hear the news … I just felt like I was dreaming," Rolle said.
The 2011 preseason has been nightmarish for the Giants' secondary -- one that could shock Freddy Krueger, given the body count.
Four of the Giants' top seven cornerbacks have suffered injuries. Thomas and Bruce Johnson (Achilles) are done for the season. Backup cornerback Brian Witherspoon, who has had an impressive camp, injured his knee not long after Thomas went down. Witherspoon announced Tuesday on Twitter that he, too, has a torn ACL and will miss the season.
And then there's Prince Amukamara, the team's first-round pick, who was tooling around on a scooter in order to keep weight off his broken foot.
"The expectation bar just feels like it just got a lot higher for me," admitted Amukamara, who said there isn't a timetable for his recovery but that he doesn't feel any pain.
The Giants' secondary, however, is hurting badly, and is suddenly thinner than an iPod after just two exhibition games.
Losing Thomas is a major blow. He led the team with 101 tackles and five interceptions last season and added four forced fumbles to boot.
He was having a terrific camp and was poised for a big season in the final year of his contract.
"When we found out, most of us had tears in our eyes," safety Deon Grant said. "Just to see the work he put in this offseason and seeing his confidence level and what he'd been doing in training camp, it bothered us more than just a regular injury."
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell had plans for Thomas. On Monday night, the Giants moved Thomas inside to cover the slot receiver on a number of third downs, while Corey Webster and Aaron Ross manned the outside. Before re-signing Grant, safeties coach Dave Merritt was on record at the start of training camp saying Thomas could have been utilized in the same role Grant played as the third safety on passing situations last year.
Justin Tuck felt this would be the year that Thomas made the Pro Bowl.
"I don't know how big [this season] could have got compared to 101 tackles, five interceptions," Tuck said. "Just making plays on the football field. I think he was poised to have another Pro Bowl-caliber year."
It certainly appeared that the Giants were going to move Thomas around the field and use him in different roles as Fewell likes to do with his most versatile players.
"It's extremely difficult," Rolle said of losing Thomas. "I don't think it is just something you can replace. It is going to definitely alter our defense a little bit."
"I don't see any difference between the way Terrell Thomas plays and the way I play," Rolle continued. "We move around a lot; we are very versatile defensive backs. It is unfortunate, man."
General manager Jerry Reese will have to begin a search for corners. Perhaps one or two will surface later when teams make their cuts, but it certainly appears that Ross, the team's former first-round pick, needs to have a big year.
Playing on the outside, Ross was credited with two passes defensed against the Bears.
"I feel more comfortable outside than on the inside," Ross said. "I think the coaches realized that, and that was the way we were going [on Monday night]. I don't know what is going to happen now."
Ross is feeling confident, but the most important thing is that he's healthy. Unless Reese adds another cornerback of note, Fewell could use Grant more on the field as well on passing downs.
And Rolle said he would play cornerback if the team asked.
The Giants don't have much time to figure out what to do without Thomas.
Right now, they have to get over the shock first.
"We can't hang our heads on the season," Rolle said of the rash of injuries to the secondary. "I don't know … I don't like to use the word 'cursed' or things of that nature. We'll find a way. Somehow."