CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Prince Amukamara made his 2012 debut Thursday night, playing cornerback for the Giants after missing the first two games with a high ankle sprain. The team was waiting for that for nearly a month, hoping the first-round pick could fight his way back onto the field and help energize and solidify their battered secondary.
They knew he would be available eventually. What no one could know, though, is how much he will help.
Amukamara will be an extra body, and should add talent to a group that twice had to rely on Justin Tryon covering elite receivers in key fourth-quarter situations. But this was his first start. The Giants hope Amukamara is the answer, but can't be sure until he actually does it.
That first test took place against the Panthers, who have Cam Newton, Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell to stretch secondaries. They were averaging 267.5 passing yards, with a league-high 12 passing plays of 20 yards or more. The Giants had allowed nine passes of more than 20 yards and three beyond 40. The only team that has given up more passing plays of 40 or more yards is the Bucs, whom the Giants torched Sunday.
The Giants secondary believes it has found the answer to its problem. To stop the deep passes, they plan to be up close to the line of scrimmage.
"If it's up to me, I would always line up and try to test out the receivers and battle them, putting hands on them, but it's not my call," said Corey Webster, who surprisingly was victimized often in the first two games. "We kind of just go in the scheme of things and try to put it together as we were being taught and how the game is being called."
Webster said he didn't voice that desire to coordinator Perry Fewell, but he sensed that when close-contact defense began working in the second half against the Bucs, Fewell stuck with it.
"I think he was just cognizant of it," Webster said. "He saw what was going on. No receiver wants to be touched off the line of scrimmage. Anybody can be a great receiver if you let them run free off the line, so I just think we saw that going on and we just kept putting the pressure on."
"Right now they're taking their shots on the outside, and until we show we're able to stop that, that's what they're going to do," Phillips said. "They got the corners out there one-on-one and we just have to step up and make a play."
Sometimes they come close. Josh Freeman's fourth-quarter TD pass to Mike Williams was a perfect throw against near-perfect coverage. Tryon had position and the pass thumped off his helmet and into Williams' hands. Justin put the "try" in Tryon on the play, but there was little the 5-9 cornerback could do against the 6-2 receiver.
"That was a heck of a play by [Williams]," Tom Coughlin said. "I thought Justin was in pretty good shape."
It was a play that, in theory, the 6-foot Amukamara would make.
The Giants also have been leaning on rookie Jayron Hosley, who started in place of Amukamara against the Bucs. He played well and, shockingly, was not targeted by Freeman.
"I did expect them to come at me more," Hosley said. "The rookie guy, you expect them to come at a rookie more than an eight-year veteran [Webster].''
Perhaps the Bucs were unprepared for Hosley to be starting. Michael Coe started the opener and Hosley wasn't announced as the starter until 90 minutes before the game.
Last night, as Hosley made his second start, the Panthers had a much better idea of how the Giants planned to use him. And Amukamara. And Webster. And the rest of the cornerbacks.
"I feel like the target is on me," Hosley said. "I'm still going to be that starred guy, the target is still going to be on me."
In the Giants' secondary, there are plenty of targets to go around.