It seems the Giants' cornerbacks have done something to anger the football gods for the second year in a row.
In 2011, five Giants who play that position went on injured reserve, including Terrell Thomas, the starter on the right side. In addition, first-round draft choice Prince Amukamara missed the first nine games of the season because of a broken foot.
None of the corners has received a season-long sentence on I.R. yet this year, but the position continues to be plagued by a relentless spate of injuries. Thomas re-injured his knee early in training camp and has not practiced since. Third-round draft choice Jayron Hosley has not stepped on the field since his 77-yard interception return for a touchdown last week vs. the Jets because of a turf toe injury.
Last night, Amukamara rejoined the wounded brigade when he suffered what Tom Coughlin today called a "moderate" high ankle sprain. Coughlin couldn't offer a time frame for the potential return of Thomas or Amukamara. Asked if Thomas could return for the September 5 regular season opener against NFC East rival Dallas, Coughlin said, "Not according to what I'm reading."
Nor did he offer much encouragement for a quick return by Amukamara.
"You've seen some of these go a long time, you've seen some of them relatively quickly," Coughlin said of high ankle sprains. "There is some pain tolerance, some position circumstances, a lot of things that go into it. This position you have to be able to open up and run very, very fast, to be able to start and stop very quickly, to change directions on a dime. These young men playing this spot have really got to have their legs under them."
Coughlin said Amukamara's return would depend in part "on how much damage there is and how fast he can tolerate, because there are always some lingering effects there."
The most positive news Coughlin delivered was that Hosley, who seemed ticketed for the nickel corner position, will "hopefully" lose his walking boot and begin some light running in the next day or two.
Another reserve corner, Brandon Bing, has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.
"I don't have any idea why these things continue to happen at that position," Coughlin said on a conference call - which was ostensibly scheduled for him to discuss the Giants' 20-17 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears but was devoted almost entirely to injury issues. "But they certainly have the last couple of years for us. We started out with a lot of numbers and those numbers have dwindled now. It's getting close by virtue of legality (mandatory roster cuts, the first Monday by 4 p.m.) will diminish more. We're certainly concerned. 'Concerned' is a very modest word."
Coughlin said the team will continue to study available players but suggested the first solution to the cornerback manpower shortage must come from within.
"We'll certainly always scan and look and try to find if there are people out there who can help us," Coughlin said, "But it's that time of year and difficult to assess whether there are people out there who can help us. We will continue to be vigilant, but a lot of what has to happen has got to come from the inside here."
Coughlin also sounded very reluctant to move safety Antrel Rolle, a former corner, to fill the vacancy. "I would not think that's an option," Coughlin said.
So it appears the top two options to open the season at right corner opposite Corey Webster are Michael Coe and Bruce Johnson, with Justin Tryon perhaps getting a shot. Ironically, they were three of the five corners who were on I.R. last year.
Johnson was the first to replace Amukamara last night, but Coe soon replaced him and had more playing time. Coe has taken many first-team snaps since training camp began. He returned to practice last week after missing the victory over the Jets with a hamstring injury.
"Michael Coe played well for the opportunity that he had," Coughlin said. "In particular, coming off of a hamstring. We knew we were going to play him, but we weren't sure how much. He did well when he had the opportunity."
Johnson said after the game that an unspecified coach had instructed him to play faster. Johnson missed all of last season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in training camp.
"That's probably coming from the defensive side of the ball," Coughlin said. "I haven't stated that directly to Bruce. We've all tried to encourage Bruce to engage and make some plays, to let us see some positive things here to move forward. We've challenged literally all of those guys that are playing the gunner position, we've challenged the defensive backs to play tighter coverage even when it's zone. There's a lot of challenging going on, we like to see it done. It can be and has been specific, It's speaking to the entire position as well."
But for the position group to meet all of those challenges, its members must first get healthy.
"We started out with what we thought was a lot of people for camp, and good quality," Coughlin said.
Apparently, that didn't please the football gods.