Perry Fewell said it would be hard to take Stevie Brown out of the starting lineup. So he probably won't.
Even though Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips are cleared and expected to play Sunday against the Steelers, Brown, who began the year as an anonymous backup, likely will retain the starting job he stepped into after Phillips' knee injury in Week 4. Since then, Brown has been involved in four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his two-pick performance against the Cowboys.
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"Brown's been playing really well, so it's hard to unseat him right now," Fewell said. "We'll find a way for Kenny to get on the field."
Phillips said he's ready to come back after nursing an MCL injury. "This week is kind of full go and I'm getting my feet back under me," he said after being limited in Thursday's practice. "I'm going this week. I do feel confident in my knee. It's been a long, long process, but I feel like it's good enough for me to get back out there and make some plays."
Rolle, who was treated for a concussion suffered late in the Cowboys game, was cleared and returned to practice Thursday. Having his two projected starters back plus his surprise weapon in Brown has gotten Fewell's creativity flowing.
"Because Stevie has emerged and come on like this, it gives me more ideas to have the three-safety package, and now we can go forward more with that," Fewell said.
That actually could work out better for Phillips, who usually played the centerfield position in three-safety sets in the past. Now, with Brown back there, he'll be given more of a chance to be a playmaker.
Some wondered if Brown would have a role when Phillips returned. It even crossed Brown's mind. But after the way he played, there was no way for the Giants to ignore him. It'll just take some tweaking to get them all on the field.
"I definitely think it would be a great thing," Brown said of being part of a three-safety scheme. "I feel like we can all run, we can all cover well, we can all do different things, so you might never know what's coming . . . All three can be playing different techniques, so you have three guys, you don't really know what they're doing on the field. I think that would make it a little more complicated [for offenses]."
Phillips said he watched Brown make those four interceptions in his place and said quarterbacks were throwing passes "like they couldn't see him."
"In my mind, I'm thinking like, 'If I was there, they probably wouldn't have thrown it,' " Phillips said. "I don't get that lucky."
Now he might be unlucky enough to lose his starting job. Phillips, not Brown, could become the third wheel.
"It's rare that a guy loses his position to an injury, but I mean, it's possible with the way he's playing," Phillips said. "But I'm not worried about it. Whatever role they give me, I'll take it. If I have to back up my backup, I'll do it."