Giants' Antrel Rolle buys into nickel and it pays off

New York Giants free safety Antrel Rolle, center,

New York Giants free safety Antrel Rolle, center, cornerback Jayron Hosley, right, and cornerback Prince Amukamara celebrate against the San Francisco 49ers. (Oct. 14, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Antrel Rolle has played a lot of nickel back throughout his career. During his time with the Giants, it was mostly grudgingly.

The safety thought he was brought to New York to be a ballhawk and make plays on the back end. It wasn't until late last year -- just in time for a run to and through the playoffs, coincidentally -- that Rolle finally embraced his position and the Giants began to soar.

Rolle was playing a traditional safety spot for the Giants for most of this season, back there breaking up deep passes and flying around toward the football. But Sunday, he was back in the nickel, lined up in the slot, covering the Packers' most dangerous receiver one on one.

It wasn't a different job for him.

"Nickel is something that I'm used to playing," he said Monday. "It's something I've played my whole career. It's kind of a natural fit for myself."

What made it different was the attitude he brought to the position. Rolle has made it clear what his preferences are in terms of how the Giants use him, but he's willing to put those away.

"Although I love playing safety," he said, "one thing I like more than playing safety is winning games. So whatever it takes to win at this point in time, our coaches are going to put us in the best position possible. We got a little glimpse of that [Sunday] night."

What made the move possible was the return of Kenny Phillips to the lineup. With Phillips and Stevie Brown playing deep coverage, Rolle was free to come up to the line and play Randall Cobb and even line up as a linebacker on some downs.

The formation also allowed the Giants to put some of their most veteran players on the field and not rely on rookie Jayron Hosley in slot coverage, where he has been shaky.

"Outstanding football player, savvy," Tom Coughlin said of Rolle in the slot. "He's a pressure player, as well. You can bring him in the pressure. I thought he reacted very well [Sunday] night to that spot, made some key tackles in there. Was in very good shape on a lot of the parts of the throwing game. Seemed to not miss a beat in terms of the time that he has been away from that spot."

It's undoubtedly the best look for the Giants' defense given what was accomplished last year once Rolle finally embraced the job and the results that were on display against the Packers this week.

Rolle said he wasn't sure if the Giants would continue to play that way. The health of Phillips, who left in the third quarter against the Packers after aggravating his right knee injury, is a key to the alignment. But against the Redskins, with their speedy quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, the Giants will need as much quickness both from the feet and from the mind as they can get on the field.

Rolle seems as if he's willing to do it, too, which makes the decision even easier. Having had a taste of championship success has caused him to re-prioritize his desires in a Giants uniform.

"Whatever it takes to win, that's what I'm going to do," Rolle said. "I like the role. I like the nickel role, I like the safety role. No matter where I play on defense, I like playing regardless. As long as I'm out there on the field helping my teammates, I'm fine."

He was saying some of the same things last year while privately brooding over his place in the defense. This year, the words ring much more honestly.

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