The New York Giants' safeties have been the talk of the town all offseason, but as we approach the preseason opener, the cornerbacks look to be a bit more interesting. At least in terms of training camp battles. Outside starter Prince Amukamara has been limited as the team tries to manage a groin injury. Combine that with a slot position up for grabs, and you've got yourself a training camp battle worth watching.
In place of Amukamara, the Giants have been trying out Chykie Brown opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Brown was not a successful player last year, allowing 32 completions from 51 passes thrown his way, but the noise out of camp is that he's been playing well so far. Of course, this is Giants camp, so inevitably, Brown suffered an injury. He's a defensive back. It's the Giants. It's just what happens.
So, now Amukamara and Brown are both out for Friday's preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It's actually disappointing to see this, because Brown seemed to be making strides and looked to be getting a legitimate shot at playing time until this injury. Cornerbacks coach Tim Walton even went so far as to say he was "Very pleased with his performance so far", but the good of this was undone on Monday when the team announced that Brown was among the players not even traveling to Ohio for intra-squad scrimmages; a bad sign for a young corner on the bubble. You don't get many chances to start with the first team in the NFL, and Brown's only opportunity may have evaporated.
What this means is that eight-year veteran Trumaine McBride gets a chance to prove himself. He's already the favorite to win the job as the nickel corner, but showing some versatility on the outside will go a long way towards trusting him in the regular season. A slot guy has to be able to cover on the edges for switch routes, spelling starters and a general preparedness for injuries. McBride knows this better than anyone. In 2013, he was thrust into the starting lineup after a bunch of the top guys suffered some battle damage. If he can stay healthy himself, McBride looks to have a good year ahead of him.
That doesn't mean the team has lost track of their plan for McBride, though. They know how valuable he is covering the slot. "It's good for me because [...] I've played outside here. So just me being at nickel helps me to focus and just learn all the little details of the nickel spot," McBride said during his media availability last week. For McBride, he gets to focus on the nuances of the nickel and will hopefully let him regain some of his 2013 form. This was, of course, the year when he somehow landed atop Football Outsiders' "Adjusted Success Rate" charts; a metric which places different values on yards allowed depending on the down of play.
His main competition comes from Jayron Hosley, a talented player who never seems to have it all together. Whether it's immature mistakes, failed drug tests or missing time, Hosley always seems one step behind where he needs to be as a player. He shows some flash plays, but his inconsistency is maddening. Do not generate frustration on a Tom Coughlin team. It's as simple as that.
The Giants tried to develop Hosley into a slot corner and perhaps trust him with some returning duties, but nothing has stuck. Hosley has failed to excel in any area, which is why it's even more surprising to see him get some of Amukamara's free snaps in practice. The Giants have used Hosley exclusively on the outside during this training camp. As he heads into the final year of his rookie contract, he has one last season to make an impact or it's likely that the Giants will let him walk quietly into the night of free-agency next March.
Hot on Hosley's heels are Chandler Fenner, Mike Harris and Trevin Wade. It's a crowded group with a lot of little angles coming into frame. For example, Fenner is more likely to challenge Hosley for any snaps he may see on the outside, whereas Harris and Wade are probably best suited towards competing as the dime-back. There's also Josh Gordy, though reports out of camp suggest he's a little further behind this group.
The cornerbacks ultimately come down to this; who shows the potential to step up when someone goes down. The camp scenario so far has set up that concept nicely, thanks to none of the injuries sustained being anywhere near season-threatening. The guys on the bubble will need to show that they can bring something new to the team, something which values their skillset above others, or that they can replicate a skillset of an existing proven player.
With the preseason just around the corner, public opinion appears to be divided. NJ.com's Jordan Raanan likes Wade a a sleeper pick to make the roster, while I know our own Ed Valentine has been impressed with Harris as a slot guy. What do the Giants think about all this? Well, they're unlikely to show their hand and reveal opinion until absolutely necessary. For now, we all just have to read between the lines and look at the code of snap-counts, unofficial depth charts and camp murmurings.