EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Jayron Hosley began the NFL season in football limbo.
That's all changed now. The Giants will face the first-place Dallas Cowboys tomorrow in an important and difficult test on the road with Hosley as a vital member of the defense. Season-ending injuries to Thurmond (pectoral) and McBride (thumb) have moved him up the depth chart all the way to the No. 1 nickel corner. And with Rodgers-Cromartie questionable because of back and hamstring injuries, Hosley could also get snaps at corner.
And that's just the way he wants it.
"I feel like I've got a lot to prove, not just to my coaches or to the owners, but also to myself," Hosley said this week. "You look at yourself every day in the mirror. You're the man that you have to wake up and see in the mirror. I've definitely got things to prove to the ownership and head coach and coaches, down to myself. That's how I approach it. I'm eager, very eager, very excited. But at the same time, I'm being humble and focused and taking it day-by-day, play-by-play.
"It was a long four weeks. I worked out, I was in shape, but it's football. You can't just get out there and expect for everything to go your way. You have to get back to being used to seeing things and reacting and just being ready. Right now I feel good. I feel ready."
Hosley played little in his season debut last week in the loss at Philadelphia. Now he must help the Giants' defense stop a Dallas offense that is first in the league in rushing and has a top-flight passing attack with quarterback Tony Romo, wide receivers Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams and tight end Jason Witten.
Because Hosley is the newcomer in the back of the defense, Romo will likely throw in his direction early and, perhaps, often.
"I hope they do," Hosley said. "It's what I've been here for. I hope they think I'm the weak link. I hope they do. Like I said, I'm ready to play. I'm not here to talk trash or anything like that. I'm confident in myself. If they feel a certain way about me in that position, that's how they feel. I've just got to do my job."
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That's exactly what defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is asking of Hosley.
"It is a great opportunity for him, because now he is the next guy up, so to speak, as the nickel back," Fewell said. "We are asking him to be the nickel back and focus on that job. We are asking him to perform at a high level in that job. We are not going to ask him to do too much from being a corner and being the nickel. We are going to ask him to do that for us and see if we can get that level of expectation up for this football game."
Hosley was the Giants' third-round draft choice in 2012 after a stellar three-year career at Virginia Tech. As a rookie, he played in 12 games with six starts and had 37 tackles (22 solo) and his only career interception. Last year, he played in only 11 games – he missed five with a hamstring injury – starting one. Hosley finished the season with just 10 tackles.
Despite his relative inactivity the last two years, Fewell has faith Hosley can play well.
"I still see the talent," Fewell said. "I think he has to speed up mentally. It is all between the ears with him. He has the talent."
In college, Hosley used that skill exclusively at corner. He traveled on a sharp learning curve as a rookie when the Giants asked him to play in the slot. The adjustment is one Hosley continues to work on.
"I've grown at the position," Hosley said. "I learned to play the position. I feel more comfortable than I did my rookie year, so at this point, I feel like I'm more prepared to play and play that role and be effective. I've had more plays at the position now. I've seen it more, I've been through it more. I've practiced it, I've repped it more. It's just being able to see things and recognize it, not worry so much about what you're doing, but what the offense is doing so I could be more instinctive.
"I started at nickel my rookie year. I did both roles at one point - started at nickel and started at corner. It's been a while since I've played that role, but I've got to approach the game like a pro and be ready for any situation. I feel like I'll be ready to do that."
Hosley knows he put himself in a precarious positon when he was slapped with the suspension. Had Thurmond and McBride remained healthy, it's possible he might not be here. But now that the Giants are counting on him, he vows to make the most of this opportunity.
"I take it as a second chance for me, especially being in the situation that I was in," he said. "Not many guys get that second chance. Right now, I'm at a point where I just take advantage. I feel more free. I'm not worried about what's going on or whatever the league is going to do. It's been done, I'm moving on. I'm in a much better place, more focused.
"You have to be mentally strong and have a one-track mind and be able to fight through the good and the bad. I feel like I'm going to be ready."