EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - Kenny Phillips returned to the Giants' secondary today for the first time in 323 days and his fellow defensive backs were thrilled to welcome him back.
"(They said), 'Superman is back,'" Phillips said. "That's what they kind of call me. It just put a smile on my face. I told them I feel like Clark Kent right now. I'm working on putting that cape back on."
It might take a little time, but he has no doubt it will be a comfortable fit. After undergoing surgery to fix an arthritic condition in his left knee that forced him to miss the final 14 games of the 2009 season, the spring drills and the first week of training camp, Phillips finally lined up at his familiar safety spot this morning. The Giants are being careful and limited him to two snaps each team period. He won't work this evening, nor will be play in next week's preseason opener.
But it's fair to say no NFL player has ever been happier to take baby steps.
"It felt great," Phillips said. "It felt real good. I was really looking forward to it, and it's been almost 11-12 months since I played football. It felt real good to be back out there with my teammates.
"I knew they were going to bring me along slowly. They're really trying to get my feet wet. I think I showed that I'm ready. I was ready to come back."
Phillips had been on the physically unable to perform list since camp opened on Aug. 1. But he passed his physical over the weekend, making him eligible to practice.
"We had him out there, which was good and gave him a couple of snaps on each drill," Coach Tom Coughlin said.
Assuming Phillips suffers no setbacks, Coughlin will increase his workload as camp continues. Perhaps he'll get three snaps a series tomorrow, then four or five later in the week.
Perhaps the most important and intriguing question is whether Phillips will progress rapidly enough to start the regular season opener on Sept. 12 vs. Carolina.
"I'm just going to continue to work my way back into the starting lineup," Phillips said. "I don't know how long that's going to take, but I'm not worried about it."
Phillips started the first two games of the 2009 season, his second as a pro. He had 16 tackles and intercepted two passes in his final outing, at Dallas on Sept. 20. But later that week, an exam and MRI revealed he had patella femoral arthritis in his left knee. Surgery and a long, arduous rehabilitation followed.
During the spring, Phillips was an impatient spectator as his teammates worked their way through the OTAs and minicamp. He was antsy waiting to make his practice debut. Despite his long absence away from the field and all the work he put into returning, Phillips said he never once thought about his knee during practice. But he wasn't completely comfortable lining up in the back of the defense.
"Actually, it felt weird," he said. "It was a little weird. I was kind of locked into what I had to do. I think it's going to take awhile for me to open my vision back up and start making plays like I used to. But I've got time.
"I have to say just the vision (is his biggest adjustment). Like I said, on the sideline I've been cutting. I've been breaking on balls, catching the balls. So it's pretty much the same."
Phillips was on the field for 12 snaps in the team drills. He took more than his expected allotment.
"He actually got me in the four-minute (drill)," secondary/safeties coach David Merritt said. "He wasn't supposed to go in four-minute. So I may get a tongue whipping by Coach Coughlin here."
The offense ran the ball on most of Phillips plays, which limited his involvement. He dove for the one ball thrown near him and popped right back up.
"I was hoping I got a deep ball or something to really test my knee out," he said. "Maybe next practice."
"I would have loved to have seen the long ball," Merritt said. "I would love to see a long ball because that's when you're really going to be able to tell, 'Okay, can he get back there to make the play?' Right now, I truly believe that he's going to be able to do it from what I saw in individual (drills) and then to carry that over into the team - I think the kid is going to pick right back up."
Perhaps most importantly, Phillips made all the right reads.
"I made them all correct," he said. "I've been paying attention on the sideline so I know the defense."
"Mentally, that tells me that he's been studying and paying attention," Merritt said. "I will never discredit the leadership that (Deon) Grant and (Antrel) Rolle bring to the team, because those guys are forcing these young safeties to pay attention and learn from the film. And that's what Kenny's done the whole time because he hasn't practiced. So for him to go in there right away and to line up properly, to get the calls, to run the defense, you know, the way he ran it - it was pretty impressive."
Phillips also slipped twice, but it didn't exactly ruin his day.
"I'm just going to blame it on the cleats," he said. "I'm not going to wear those cleats anymore. That's all it is. It's been so long since I played football. I wasn't worried about my knee at all. I jumped right back up and tried to get back to the ball. Except for the two times I slipped, other than that, I feel like I had a great practice."
The reception Phillips received from his coaches and teammates in the secondary fell just shy of a coronation.
"A guy by the name of Phillips showed up - I don't know where he came from," Merritt said. "I like to call him Superman. Super is what I call him. It was really, really interesting seeing him back there because it's been so long. It's been a year, and then to see the kid move - I was impressed. I made a conscious effort to make sure that I kept my eyes on him and watching his movement. He slipped one time, which I was happy to see that and to see his response to come back from the slip. That was really nice, but overall, you know, seeing him back there was really nice."
"For him to go back out there and be amongst his teammates, that's a blessing right there," Rolle said. "You know, he was excited. He was grinning from ear to ear today. We were also grinning from ear to ear for him. I'm extremely happy to see his progress and his hard work has paid off for him."
Phillips said he delivers, "just some kind of new energy. I mean we're going on our second week of camp, and those guys - I don't want to say (they're) tired - but I'm just trying to have fun out there. Put a smile on their face. When they see me out there, I'm pretty sure they know I'm having fun. They're going to follow my lead."
If Phillips stays healthy, the safety position – perhaps the Giants' weakest after he went down last year – will be one of strength. Phillips, after all, was the team's first-round draft choice in 2008. No less an authority than Coughlin said when Phillips was hurt last year, "We were very excited about what we thought could be a Pro Bowl year for our free safety." Rolle, a free agent acquisition, played last season as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Grant, who also joined the team in the offseason, has started 144 consecutive games.
"It's great," Grant said of having the three players on the field together. "That was the Giants' Achilles last year. They started off 5-0 and then they just started getting injuries left and right. So the more depth you can have back there as a starter is always a good look."
"It could be a very dominant force," Rolle said. "Deon and myself were speaking about that yesterday. He just asked a rhetorical question. He's like 'Me, you and Kenny are going to be on the field at the same time?' I was like 'I know. It's going to be freakish.' So I mean that's something we're definitely looking forward to. It's going to be exciting. It's going to be a rollercoaster."
Kenny Phillips is happy to be back on the ride.
"I had no doubts," he said of his comeback. "No doubts at all because of the trainers and the doctors. They really said I could make a full recovery. So I had no doubts at all."
*Phillips wasn't the only player to return to work. Center Shaun O'Hara (ankle) and Grant, who had been sidelined with a groin injury, practiced fully. O'Hara missed all of last week.
"It just felt good to be out with my men and be one of the guys again," O'Hara said. "Being off to the side is not what I look to do here, so it felt good to be out there."
*Backup tight ends Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard, who had missed time with matching strained hamstrings, returned to practice.
*But Kevin Boss, the starting tight end, remains sidelined with ankle and hamstring issues. Boss had offseason surgery on his ankle and he said the sore hamstring resulted from him compensating for that injury. But he hopes to return to practice in the next two or three days.
"We're trying to be smart about both," Boss said. "You don't want to push it too hard and lose time and work backwards. But yeah, the hammy has become a bit of an issue, but it's just right now it's trying to be smart about it and not move along too fast and injure it more."
*Wide receiver Sinorice Moss sat out with a groin injury…Also sitting out the morning session were defensive end Osi Umenyiora (hip), wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (toe), linebacker Keith Bulluck (knee) and wideout Steve Smith (groin). All but Smith are on a one-practice-a-day regimen.
*Left guard Rich Seubert does not need surgery on his broken left hand. He will be fitted for a cast and hopes to practice this week…Tackle William Beatty briefly left practice after he was poked in the eye, but soon returned.
"They think I can put a cast on there and maybe try to go out and practice as long as it doesn't bother me too much," Seubert said. "The risk factor of having surgery goes down every day I rest it. We'll just see how it feels.
"I'll see if I can get out there this week. I want to get out there and start moving around again and cast it up and at least be out there with the guys and get my footwork and just go through drills and see how it feels."
Seubert said the pain and swelling have subsided, but…
"It's still there," he said. "It's a broken bone, so it's going to hurt for awhile. I'm not worried about the pain. I'm just worried about not doing anything worse to it than it is already. I don't want it to shift. I don't want it to turn and put a pin in it - then I'm out."
*Bear Pascoe, who has received plenty of reps at tight end while Boss, Beckum and Ballard were sidelined, had two outstanding catches. He reached over Rolle to catch an Eli Manning on a deep seam route. A few plays later, he outjumped Bryan Kehl and did a nice job keeping his feet inbounds while catching a pass from Rhett Bomar.
*Corey Webster intercepted a Manning fade pass for Ramses Barden…Later, defensive tackle Chris Canty batted down a Manning pass at the line of scrimmage.
Leonard Marshall, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants, and author William Bendetson will be in camp Saturday from 1-4 p.m. to sign copies of their book, *When the Cheering Stops, about the Giants' 1990 championship season. With interviews from over 50 players and coaches, along with research like viewing Bill Belichick's original defensive game plan in Canton Ohio, fans can relive one of the most memorable teams and Super Bowls in NFL history.
*Tickets are available for the first Giants Kickoff Luncheon to be held in the New Meadowlands Stadium. The charitable event will be held on Wednesday, September 1, 2010 from noon to 2 p.m. in the Gridiron Club, located between the Pepsi and Verizon gates at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
In addition to introducing the 2010 Giants, the team will honor Amani Toomer with the Giants Alumni Man of the Year Award.
Hackensack University Medical Center and the Giants have begun a partnership that gives fans a unique opportunity to support one of the nation's healthcare leaders while showing support for New York's favorite team. All proceeds from the luncheon and raffle will be donated to a very special program: the Touchdown Fund: Score for Kids, Cardiac and Cancer launched earlier this year by the Medical Center and the Giants and focusing on three core areas of healthcare.
Giants fans can join Head Coach Tom Coughlin and the entire team and the raffle will include a grand prize trip to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas (including round trip airfare and hotel accommodations for four nights).
For more information, call 201-996-3722.
Michael, how is Jay Alfords knee coming along being he reinjured it when he tripped on an offensive lineman?
Jay is doing well. He's practicing once a day, as are most of the other players who had surgery in the last year. But I've seen him go all-out in pass rush drills and he seems to enjoy mixing it up during practice. Hopefully, he won't have a setback and will have a big season.
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