- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- Last season, Prince Amukamara would run into general manager Jerry Reese sometimes before games.
And Reese would tell the rookie to go out and play like a first-round pick.
This season, though, the Giants truly hope Amukamara starts to show his first-round pedigree. The secondary can use a boost from Amukamara after taking two hits in consecutive days with Terrell Thomas' knee injury and Tyler Sash's four-game suspension.
It's possible the Giants could go out and re-sign veteran safety Deon Grant soon. But Amukamara, last year's 19th overall pick, has the opportunity to play significant snaps and potentially start now that Thomas has re-injured his twice surgically-repaired right ACL.
"I expect Prince to play like a first-round draft pick," Reese said. "That's pretty cut and dry for me. He should challenge for a starting job and play like a first-round draft pick. When you pick a guy that high, in the first round, you expect him to play and play well and be a strong contributor to your team."
Reese said that on Saturday, before Thomas slipped in practice on Sunday and re-injured his ACL. The team won't rush Amukamara into the lineup until he is ready. But the urgency for Amukamara to develop has increased now.
Thomas headed to the west coast on Tuesday to consult with Dr. Arthur Ting, who performed his ACL surgery last year. A source said Thomas suffered at least a partial tear. He is expected to undergo an arthroscopic procedure to determine the extent of the injury.
Now the job could go to Michael Coe, Justin Tryon, Bruce Johnson, Jayron Hosley or Amukamara. So far, Coe has gotten snaps with the first team when Thomas hasn't practiced in camp. Coe, Tryon and Johnson are all returning from season-ending injuries suffered last season.
While they have more experience, the Giants didn't draft Amukamara 19th overall to be a backup cornerback. Sooner or later, the Giants' Prince will have to be ready to start, and do what Reese expects of him.
"He would always tell me that before the games last year and I didn't take it to heart, I didn't take it personal," Amukamara said. "I just took it as encouragement."
"I feel I have a lot of expectations for myself and the organization has a lot of expectations for me," he added. "Last year, I was kind of at fault. This year, I am starting out fresh and it's time for me to fulfill mine and theirs, too."
Last year, Amukamara lost most of his rookie season to a broken foot suffered in his second practice of training camp. This happened after he missed valuable classroom and practice time in the offseason due to the lockout, like the rest of his rookie class.
Amukamara made a splashy debut, with an interception in his first pro game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 20. But he struggled after that and he saw his playing time diminish.
"We're trying to take it slow with Prince," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said Monday, prior to news of Thomas' injury. "Just because Prince came off the foot injury, we probably inserted him too quickly last year. He made a splash play and we got all pumped up, I got all pumped up, and probably put too much on his plate. So we're just trying to build him up so he can get in and get the reps and get cutting again with our defense."
Amukamara has mostly been behind Coe and Tryon in practice snaps, but Fewell said not to pay attention to the depth chart in practice. Amukamara has flashed glimpses of what he can do.
He had an interception in practice last weekend, and had his strongest practice on Monday, when he provided blanket coverage on a couple of plays -- including breaking up a deep pass intended for Domenik Hixon. Afterward, Webster came over and was yelling "Prince!" with delight.
Prior to his injury, Thomas said he believed Amukamara was ready for a bigger role this season and eager to prove critics wrong.
"He's worked his butt off," Thomas said. "He's tired of all the people criticizing him and I think he's finally healthy. He's also been working his butt off in film and in the weight rooms to be a contributor to our secondary, and I think he's ready to go."
"First-rounders have to prove something, have to put out some pudding," Thomas added. "It's hard as a rookie not having a rookie camp or OTAs and then get hurt in the second practice and have to start the season fresh, so I think now he's starting all over and he has a second chance to prove himself."
After having an injection in the offseason to help his foot feel better, Amukamara said he is healthy and ready to go. He just has a few more things to improve on.
"I'd just say just my study and be more focused in the film room mentally," Amukamara said of what he wants to work on. "And then on the field just not touch a receiver after five yards. My game is pretty physical and aggressive so just learning how to keep that away from my game."
Now that Thomas could be out, Amukamara may have to speed up his learning curve.
"He's got to get in the mix and see where he fits in," Reese said. "But obviously when you pick a guy in the first round you expect him to come in and contribute."
With Terrell Thomas hurt, is Prince Amukamara ready to start? We'll see.