Prince Amukamara is maturing, turning it around, teammates say
Prince Amukamara is sitting at the cool kids' table this year.
"I feel like I'm part of the 'in' crowd," he said of hanging out in the Giants' cafeteria, weight room and other venues with some of the defensive backfield's Big Men on Campus group, which includes Corey Webster, Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas. "I just feel comfortable."
But the third-year cornerback wants a place setting at an even more exclusive table, one that doesn't physically exist. He wants to slide his chair right between Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, have Darrelle Revis pass the salt and ask Charles Tillman what's good to eat at this place.
Amukamara knows there is no concrete way of determining who the best cornerback in the league is, so he doesn't worry about trying to be the clear No. 1.
"That's all relative," he said of ranking the upper echelon. "My goal is just to be one of them. To be in the conversation. If I play all 16 games [this season], I definitely have a chance."
If he plays the way he has this preseason, he almost certainly will.
Amukamara has been the Giants' most dominant defensive player since the start of training camp, picking off interceptions and batting down passes and otherwise playing the way the Giants envisioned when they drafted him in the first round in 2011.
His career took some time to get going -- a foot injury his rookie year stunted his growth and hamstring issues held him back at the start of the 2012 season -- but now it seems as if he is poised to make up for lost time.
And if his standards seem high in terms of his goals and his place among the sport's elite, well, that's just a carry-over from his expectations for himself on the field.
Several times this summer, Amukamara has made a spectacular play in practice, one that brought excitement to his defensive teammates and shouts of happiness from his coaches.
Afterward, though, he would hit the grass for 10 push-ups, punishment usually reserved for dropping an interception.
The plays were good enough for everyone's liking. Almost everyone's.
"I guess it just isn't good enough," Amukamara said of his self-imposed punishment.
It helps that Amukamara is comfortable, and that word can be used to describe virtually every aspect of his life.
He's found his place on the field after struggling through a steep learning curve in his first two years.
"Prince understands the defensive package right now. He feels much more comfortable with what we are doing defensively," cornerbacks coach Pete Giunta said. "He's a completely different player now because he's had the opportunity to work the whole [offseason]."
He's found his place with teammates off the field. That was difficult, too, because Amukamara's personality admittedly is "all over the place."
"I can't speak for my teammates, so I don't know if they thought I didn't fit here, but I always felt comfortable here," Amukamara said. "I just knew it was going to take a while because sometimes my personality can get, well, it's hard to get used to. I've been told that I'm a different person."
Perhaps the best person to mark Amukamara's development in both areas is Ross, the cornerback who was here during Amukamara's rookie season, went to play in Jacksonville last year and has returned to the Giants.
"It's still the same Prince, as far as his personality," Ross said. "But it's a different Prince on the field. He's really matured on the field and I think he understands the game a little more. But as far as Prince being Prince, it's like I never left. He's still the little brother of the group."
There is a third area in which Amukamara has settled in, and that's in his personal life. This offseason, he proposed to his girlfriend, Pilar Davis, and they are planning a wedding the week after the Super Bowl.
"It's been huge," he said of that experience. "It gives me a sense of stability for sure. It's like a maturation process . . . I just love the process of getting better and growing up."
The Giants hope there will be plenty of similarities between Amukamara's season and his engagement. Such as the chance to see all of the planning come to fruition with a seat at a table of honor and a ring in February.
"It's crazy how on the field and off the field are going hand-in-hand right now," Amukamara said. "It's pretty cool."
As one of the cool kids, he should know.