Giants' added depth gives Antrel Rolle free safety spot he wants

Giants safety Antrel Rolle practices during team training

Giants safety Antrel Rolle practices during team training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. (Aug. 7, 2013) (Credit: James Escher)

Antrel Rolle tries to say the right thing. When he's asked about the last two seasons that he's had to move down toward the line of scrimmage and play either a true nickel position or a strong safety role, he makes like a good soldier. "I'll play any position," he said.

But when it is pointed out that there is a stack of players standing between Rolle and that job this season -- almost an entire depth chart with Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas and Jayron Hosley all capable of handling the responsibility -- not to mention the Giants' apparent desire to move Stevie Brown down into the box more often, he can't help but smile.

"Oh my gosh," safeties coach Dave Merritt said. "Antrel talks about it all the time . . . Him being able to play the safety position for us now is a tremendous lift in his spirit."

Rolle has been at this point in the last few preseasons, figuring he'd be able to play deep in the secondary and be a ballhawk. But each year there have been injuries and circumstances that have prevented that from happening. This year, though, looks to be Rolle's chance to back up and react. He'll be free of those responsibilities. Free at free safety.

It was odd the way the Giants deployed their safeties last year anyway. Brown came in and established himself as a starter after Kenny Phillips was injured and wound up with eight interceptions while Rolle was banging heads at the line of scrimmage and covering shifty slot receivers. The two players came into the league expecting to be doing just the opposite, Rolle as a playmaker and Brown a big body who even played some true linebacker at Michigan.

The two never talked about the twist, but "we definitely recognized it," Rolle said.

What made it more difficult for Rolle was that he had to lose weight to cover the receivers in the slot, and that took away from his stoutness in the box. He wound up running two or more extra miles each night after practices and meetings to drop from 215 to 205. And he never had a chance to lose the weight during the offseason. "They'd always just throw me in the fire so I couldn't adjust ahead of time," he said. "It's a little bit of a midstream adjustment."

Now, though, the Giants seem to have two groups to take care of the jobs that Rolle performed. They'll have true corners at nickel. And they'll have Brown at strong safety.

Rolle may be overjoyed at the prospects, but Brown will have to be the one to adapt this year. No more glamorous interceptions if he's pulled down in run support. He'll be doing the grunt work. "Everything happens really fast," Brown said of his new spot in the Giants' defense. "You have to see guard pulls and block downs and fullbacks leaking out. You have to be really good with your eyes."

The Giants will rotate Brown and Rolle between the two positions throughout the season, so Rolle will have to do his share of the heavy lifting. But he likely won't be asked to play nickel anymore.

"It's had its ups and downs," he said, "but it's been a thrill."

Just not as much of a thrill as not doing it apparently is.

Notes & quotes: DE Justin Tuck missed practice with what Tom Coughlin called "a tight back" but also terms as "precautionary" . . . Coughlin said he expects the starters to play about a quarter of Saturday's preseason opener against the Steelers . . . T Justin Pugh (concussion) should be cleared to return over the weekend and the hope is he'll be able to practice when the team returns from Pittsburgh . . . S Deon Grant announced his retirement after an 11-year career capped by winning Super Bowl XLVI with the Giants.

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