The New York Giants are the fourth NFL organization cornerback/return specialist Brian Witherspoon has been with since his career began in 2008. He would, of course, like to stick around for a while.
"I know this is my chance. I was going all out for the other teams, but I've got to go all out and beyond," Witherspoon said via phone earlier this week. "I've gotta lay everything out on the table. This could probably be my last shot."
Witherspoon, 25, played the final game of the season for the Giants at the end of 2010 after the team placed cornerback/return man Will Blackmon on injured reserve. For the past couple of seasons he has lived the vagabond NFL existence of a player trying to find a home, trying to prove once and for all that he belongs in the league.
Witherspoon made the Jacksonville Jaguars roster in 2008 as an undrafted free agent from tiny Stillman College. He played in 14 games that season and made an impact as a kickoff and punt return specialist. He averaged 11.3 yards per return on 17 punts that season, ninth in the league. He was also one of the league's top kickoff return men, averaging 24 yards per return on 52 attempts. His 1,250 kickoff return yards were ninth in the league.
He started 2009 with the Jaguars, but suffered a hamstring injury and got released. He appeared in just eight games, seven with Jacksonville and one with the Detroit Lions. Last season he spent training camp with the Carolina Panthers, but was released prior to the start of the season. With the Panthers he did not return any kicks during the preason. He was signed by the Giants on Dec. 30 to help fill out the roster for the final regular season game.
The scouting report on Witherspoon's SB Nation New York player page refers to him as a "good return man," but adds "not much of an option as a cornerback."
He is trying to prove otherwise.
"I think special teams could be my biggest contribution. I'm a proven kick returner, punt returner in this league and now I want to get a chance to prove myself as being more of a corner," Witherspoon said. "I think I showed a lot of people when I was in Carolina that I'm a pretty good corner and I can play corner in this league.When I went and worked out for the Giants that was one of the first things they said to me -- we saw the film of what you did in Carolina and you can play.
"I know special teams is the best and fastest way to get on the field, but I'm trying to prove myself in other positions."
The Giants, of course, have a crowd at cornerback with the drafting of Prince Amukamara and the potential return of 2009 nickel back Bruce Johnson. They also have several options in the return game, including Domenik Hixon, third-round pick Jerrel Jernigan, Darius Reynaud and D.J. Ware.
Witherspoon, it would seem, will need as many reps as possible to distinguish himself and earn a spot on the 53-man roster. The ongoing NFL Lockout would appear to complicate that, but Witherspoon is not worrying about it.
"I'm not the only one sitting at home working out and waiting for the lockout to be over with," Witherspoon said. "I think it kind of balances everything out. For the guys trying to come in and earn a spot it's a level playing field.
"Competition brings out the best in everybody."
Witherspoon spoke glowingly about the Giants organization.
"Not to criticize any other team that I've been with, but from day one there was something totally different in a very positive way," Witherspoon said. "They made me feel like I was there for years. No other organization had that type of first impression on me.
"Any time you have that type of experience, making me feel at home and welcome like that it helps out a whole lot with your confidence and feeling comfortable. It's amazing how good and how ready you can be when you feel good about the people and the organization that you're working for."
Maybe it goes with the territory of being a kick returner, but Witherspoon described himself as a "flamboyant" player who "won't be hard to spot."
"I've always got a smile on my face," Witherspoon said. "I'm very positive, I'm always bouncing around trying to hype up the other guys, trying to bring excitement. I don't like it when things are boring. I like to have fun."
Can Witherspoon be the play-making return guy the Giants have been looking for? The extra cornerback they couldn't seem to settle on a season ago?
Only time, and training camp, will tell.