New York Giants' cornerback Terrell Thomas set an optimistic tone for the upcoming season Thursday night during an appearance on 'New York Giants Talk,' saying he "can't wait" for training camp to begin Aug. 1.
"The defense will come back very strong and the Giants overall will be contenders in the NFC East and in the playoffs," Thomas said.
Thomas has plenty of reason to be looking forward to a new season. In what we all know was an otherwise awful season for the defense, Thomas was the unit's best player. The 2008 second-round pick from USC the team in tackles (85), interceptions (5) and passes defensed (13).
"I think I made a huge step coming from my rookie year," Thomas said. "I think (secondary) coach Peter Giunta did a great job just believing in me and instilled in me if you see it, believe it. He really put his trust in me and I flourished over the season. I want to just build off last year and really don't make any mistakes. Play as a pro.
"I feel like I left a couple plays out there and I think that's the difference in me becoming a great player and becoming elite."
"I think building off last year the coaches have a lot of confidence in me. Hopefully this year I can build on that and maybe step up to that next level of guarding the elite wide receivers," Thomas said. "I don't play to be No. 2 or to get paid or just to be a New Yorker. I want to be the best in this game."
Before he can become the best in the game, Thomas has to make certain he is in the Giants' starting lineup this fall. From my vantage point, that should not even be a question. The return, however, of Aaron Ross, the Giants' 2007 No. 1 pick, has led some to speculate that Thomas and Ross will be competing for a starting slot opposite Corey Webster.
Thomas understands it, and is looking forward to the challenge.
"He's a great player. If he's healthy it just makes us that much stronger in the secondary," Thomas said. "As for myself, it's going to be a battle this camp, but at the same time I enjoy it and I know it's going to bring the better player out of both of us. The best man's going to win, hopefully I stay on top and remain the starter. I just really want to get that doubt out of everybody's head that I'm the replacement or I'm only playing because Aaron wasn't there or the secondary sucked because Aaron wasn't there.
"I think I had a helluva season and I didn't get enough credit for it, so this is a big training camp for me to prove to everybody that I am the starter and I'm one of the leaders of the secondary."
Thomas said he felt he should have been a first-round pick coming out of USC three seasons ago, and has used his second-round selection by the Giants as motivation.
"It humbled me. I was injured a lot in college, I put together two solid seasons at USC and I felt i was one of the top prospects coming out that year," he said. "It's just the way it goes sometimes. I would never change the way it happened. I went into a great situation and I love where I'm playing right now.
"But at the back of your mind you always keep that and you're always trying to get your respect, even to the first-rounders that went ahead of you that, you know what, I'm better than you."
Leadership, or the lack thereof, has been a constant theme in discussing the Giants' 2009 defensive collapse. Thomas addressed that topic.
"It was kinda hard last year. AP (Antonio Pierce) has always been our leader. He was such a great leader. He knew what everybody had to do, he put in the work and he led by example. It was really hard to replace him. We lost our identity when he fell down," Thomas said.
"Everybody kinda looked at Tuck to step up next, but he was injured and he's not that type of player. I think this year we're going into it, everybody's stepping up to be that leader. I don't think we have one single leader that's gonna lead the defense. I think everybody from Corey Webster to Michael Boley to Justin Tuck to Kiwanuka to Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant and so on. I think everybody is just stepping up to take control of themselves and everybody be accountable. Let's all do our job and not have to worry about one person leading us."
Speaking of Rolle and Grant, Thomas is excited about the additions of the two veteran free-agent safeties.
"They bring a lot of confident leadership and veteran play," Thomas said. "They know the schemes, they know other teams, they know our system even though it's a new system they know how to play within it and they've given us corners a lot of confidence to believe that we can jump routes, that we're going to have help. They're making plays out there more than we are, it's just a great feeling having that depth, all being out there healthy.
"That was the main thing we struggled with in the secondary, we couldn't get any consistency. It was always a different safety group or corner group every week."
The other big change in the Giants' 2010 defense is, of course, new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Everyone wants to know what type of scheme the Giants will play under Fewell, and here is Thomas' take on that.
"Coach Fewell is doing a great job of letting his play-makers play. He's matching us up. It's corners on wide receivers and safeties on tight ends. If you're better than us, that's how you're gonna win. We don't think you are," Thomas said. "We're going to match up, we're going to attack you, we're going to play different types of schemes, we're going to mix up everything. It's definitely a lot more aggressive."
If you missed the show, click the player below to listen. In addition to our chat with Thomas, co-host Pat Traina (Inside Football) and I discussed a wide range of Giants' topics. A reminder that we will also be back on the air next Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.