EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** As they patrolled the back of the Giants' defense, safeties Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown became trusted partners on the field and close friends off it. The loss of Brown to a season-ending knee injury has shown Rolle to be both compassionate and determined.
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Rolle has his own issues, having suffered a sprained ankle on Aug. 12. But he has cast aside both the pain and disappointment, because the Giants need him to step up. Rolle practiced with the team today for the first time since he was helped off the field two weeks ago.
"He managed fine," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's one of those guys that you're not going to keep him down for long."
Once Brown went down, Rolle's idle time ended.
"I told them today I want to go out there and test it and see what I can do," Rolle said. "I'll be smart about it. I'll make sure I relay back to them and let them know how it's feeling, if it's still sore, if it's good, if I can keep going or if I need to shut it down. We're all on the same page as far as the training staff and coaches.
"Stevie going down is a huge blow to our defense, a tremendous blow to our secondary and someone's going to have to pick up the pieces, no matter who it is. The pieces have to be picked up. … (I am focused on) what I can do to help this team more than I ever have before. I'm up for the challenge."
So is his new running mate, Ryan Mundy, who was signed on March 14 after four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers (plus one on the practice squad). Brown got his opportunity last season when Kenny Phillips suffered a knee injury that limited him to four starts. He responded with eight interceptions and an NFL-best 307 return yards. Now Brown is down and Mundy gets his shot.
"It's always an unfortunate situation when you see a good player and also your friend go down with an unfortunate injury," Mundy said. "This is a situation I'm familiar with, stepping in for guys when they go down and I'm excited about it. It's a great opportunity and I look forward to making the most of it.
"You can look at last year and what Stevie did was nothing short of outstanding. Kenny went down and he came in, stepped in and played a major role in the defense. I'm just looking to keep it going. Like I said, I'm excited about the opportunity and I look forward to doing whatever the team needs me to do."
Mundy started the last two preseason games at strong safety for Rolle. He could take over for Brown at free safety or Rolle and Mundy could split the duties at each position. Last year with the Steelers, Mundy started three games.
"If Troy (Polamalu) went out, I was playing strong safety. If Ryan (Clark) went out, I was playing free safety," Mundy said. "This year, I still think we're in the process of picking out roles and responsibilities and what will be the best combination for us, to give us the best opportunity to win ball games. Once we figure that out, I'll have a little bit more information for you. Either way it goes, I'm comfortable with my abilities to go out there and help the team win.
"I just want to go out there and make plays. Whether it's interceptions, getting the ballcarrier down, some big hits. Whatever the team needs me to do. I'm just more than willing to do my job. That's what Stevie did. He did his job and he was in the right place at the right time. If you do what you're coached to do, you'll be in the right place and plays will happen for you."
Third-year pro Tyler Sash, first-year Giant David Caldwell, rookie Cooper Taylor and Will Hill, who faces a four-game NFL suspension at the beginning of the season, are the team's other safeties. Taylor, who suffered a hamstring injury early in camp, has yet to play in a preseason game, though he has been practicing.
"It's easy to think you have it down in the meeting room," Taylor said, "but when the bullets are flying out there for real, you definitely have to make sure you know it. The way the training camps are run it's a little less time on the field and more time in the meeting rooms. So I was able to get a little bit more out of that, but definitely making sure I have it down in the meeting room pat, so when I do go out there, it will execute on the field."
Although they're all safeties, Rolle said lining up with Mundy is far different from playing with Brown.
"Skillsets are different," Rolle said. "Totally different type of players, but we're all versatile. We know which role, if we have to fill in any type of role, it will get done. We make sure we study that way. I may study the free safety, Stevie may study the strong safety that way, vise-versa, you never know what's going to take place throughout the course of a game. You have to be on all your P's and Q's.
"I've already somewhat developed a chemistry with Ryan, but during the game, he's a new guy on this team. Ryan's a great guy to be around on the field and off the field. It's going to have to happen. We're going to find a way, whether it's in a meeting room, whether it's off the field, we're going to find a way to make sure we have that chemistry, make sure we have the same eyes and, more importantly, make sure we have the same intellect when you're talking about playing the safety position."
The Giants' defense is counting on it.
- Coughlin said he is "strongly inclined" to play his starters in the preseason finale Thursday at New England. Still to be decided is how long they will stay in the game.
- The offensive line had a new configuration in practice today, with Kevin Boothe at center and James Brewer at left guard. "We'll try different combinations," Coughlin said. "Nothing wrong with that, I hope."
- Rookie defensive end Damontre Moore, sidelined for two weeks with a shoulder injury, worked in individual drills for the first time…Cornerback Corey Webster, who has not played since the preseason opener, returned to practice…Cornerback Jayron Hosley (ankle), wide receiver Louis Murphy (leg) and offensive lineman David Diehl (thumb surgery) did not practice.
- Mathias Kiwanuka is bullish on the defensive unit and especially the defensive front.
"I think our defense will come along," said Kiwanuka, the defensive end entering his eighth season. "The guys back behind us are doing a tremendous job in terms of getting lined up and filling gaps and playing the ball when it's in the air. You've got Prince (Amukamara) out there making plays and unfortunately Stevie Brown went down, but when he was out there he was making significant plays for us. Up front I think we have the ability to take this to the Super Bowl. We have all the ability that we've had in years past. We just have to put it together."
- *Cornerback Terrell Thomas said his thrice surgically-repaired knee "felt great" after he played his first game in two years Saturday vs. the Jets. "That's the biggest thing you always worry about," Thomas said. "Even after practice, is the knee going to swell up, you're going to have tendonitis, is it going to do anything, and I haven't had any of those setbacks. That's the positive going forward. Like I said, you have to keep building. Body felt great after the game, so I'm happy with my progress."
- Asked if he anticipates playing in the preseason finale Thursday in New England, Thomas said, "Whatever they tell me to do, I'm going to do."