Jayron Hosley is listed on the Giants' roster as 5 feet, 10 inches, but this week he could stand tall in their critical game against the NFC-leading Falcons in Atlanta.
Starting cornerback Prince Amukamara missed practice again with a hamstring injury suffered last week in a victory over New Orleans. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said today if Amukamara can't play, then Hosley will start at right cornerback. Hosley has started four games this season, including two at the nickel corner, which was his primary position after Amukamara returned to action on September 20. But his playing time has diminished recently. And in the Falcons, the Giants will face a team that is fourth in the NFL in passing yards, with an average of 289.2 a game.
But none of this causes the Giants or Hosley any trepidation if he has to play a significant role in the Georgia Dome.
"I think he's fearless enough and I think he's physical enough, because I think the young man accepts the challenge," Fewell said. "I don't think he backs down from anybody. I don't believe he thinks of himself as a smaller man. I think he thinks of himself as a football player who can go out and get the job done."
Fewell couldn't have been more spot-on in his assessment.
"I'm a corner. I've played corner all my life, so I'm definitely comfortable out there," Hosley said. "That's where I made my name, at corner. I'm not saying that I downplay the nickel position. I love playing nickel. Wherever I'm needed I'll play, but at the end of the day I'm going to be playing corner. So I felt comfortable out there, I'm ready and I'm going to be prepared."
He demonstrated that today in practice, when Fewell said Hosley made an impressive interception of a David Carr pass. Carr was impersonating Matt Ryan while running the Falcons' plays.
"He made a play today in practice that was an outstanding football play," Fewell said. "He was playing a coverage and the receiver ran an in-cut and he just saw it, broke on the ball, and I kind of joked with him, I said, 'I didn't know you were that fast,' because he broke on the ball and intercepted it and he was in the end zone before I could turn my head. He had a really good day today. He had good energy, he had good focus and his ability to break on the ball was really good.
"He's showed that ability to do that. Obviously we want him to do that more consistently and in ball games. I think he had a nice pick against Carolina when he was playing the nickel spot, a tipped ball. He does those things routinely in practice."
The Giants' ability to ground Atlanta's aerial attack will be one of the keys if the Giants are to defeat the Falcons, who have the conference's best record at 11-2. But the Giants might not be the only team missing a key player in that matchup. Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White, the four-time Pro Bowler who leads the team with 1,140 receiving yards on 77 catches, missed his second practice in a row today with a knee injury. Falcons coach Mike Smith said White's availability for the game will be determined shortly before kickoff.
"I think that they have three good wide receivers on their football team," Fewell said. "(Harry) Douglas is not a bad receiver and if White is a game-time decision, then they have capable receivers that can come in and do the job. It may change a little bit of our strategy, but not a whole lot."
The Falcons also have future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who in his 16th season leads the team with 81 catches and is tied with Julio Jones at the top with seven touchdown receptions.
If Amukamara can't play, the only available corners for the Giants will be Corey Webster, Justin Tyron and Hosley. Safety Antrel Rolle has played the nickel corner since Hosley's playing time was cut.
"When I go to nickel that's basically playing corner," Rolle said. "So it is what it is. We're going to go out there and play the game. Whoever has to fill in and step in a role will do so."
Hosley was the 94th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. He had 12 interceptions in his final two seasons at Virginia Tech, leading the nation with nine in 2010.
Like virtually every rookie, Hosley's performance level has been inconsistent. He admits he was a bit overwhelmed early in the season.
"There definitely was a lot on my plate with all that I was doing and learning and trying to comprehend," Hosley said. "But at the end of the day I looked at it like if they put this much on me, they had that much confidence in me and depend on me. So it's up to me to take it as serious as they took me to do the job so I had to step up and prepare myself and not look at myself as a rookie. Coach always preaches to me that you're not a rookie. We expect you to step up now. So that's how I took it and that's how I prepared myself."
He did that diligently, but his playing time still decreased. Hosley insists that was not a source of frustration.
"Not at all," he said. "You want to be out there every play, but that's not possible. Things move around, coaches make changes and you've got to live with it. They're the coaches. I'm a man, so it's not something I took personally. It was just something that I felt like I could work harder. They gave me more time to prepare myself and evaluate myself and just better my game."
Now his teammates, his coaches and he are all confident he can play well in a high-stakes game for the Giants, who are 8-5 and one game ahead of Dallas and Washington in the NFC East race.
"He's progressed and he's practiced all week," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's done a good job of paying attention and he made a nice interception in practice today. He's building up toward the game."
"He's played in ball games so we feel confident with him that he can go in and get the job done," Fewell said. "He's excited about stepping up to that challenge."
The Giants need Hosley to take a big step in a crucial game for the Giants.