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Versatile Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a key to Giants’ defense

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie #41 of the New York

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie #41 of the New York Giants reacts with teammate strong safety Landon Collins #21 of the New York Giants after sacking quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins (not pictured) in the second quarter at FedExField on Jan. 1, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. Credit: Getty Images / Patrick Smith

At 30, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the old man of the Giants’ secondary, but do not make the mistake of underestimating his ability to keep up with his younger teammates. Such as the mistake a reporter made in asking who’s the fastest player in the defensive backfield.

“You joking?” Rodgers-Cromartie said rhetorically, making it obvious he believes he is, and not just among the DBs. Yes, the man they refer to as DRC said there is no one with more speed on the Giants’ 53-man roster.

Not even Odell Beckham Jr.

As for who’s the second fastest, Rodgers-Cromartie said, “I’d say either Tavarres (King) or Odell.”

And just in case there are any doubts, DRC has an open challenge. “I got one good race left in me,” he said. “I’m waiting on anybody to challenge me. After that, I’m done.”

The free-spirited cornerback was in a jovial mood Wednesday as the Giants staged their first full-scale practice for Sunday’s NFC wild-card game in Green Bay. What’s not to be cheerful about? The Giants are in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, three years before DRC joined them as a free agent.

Like the Giants’ resurgent defense, Rodgers-Cromartie has had a terrific season. He matched his career high with six interceptions while playing outside, where he had been his entire career, and in the slot, where he hadn’t played until this season.

He had another excellent game in last Sunday’s 19-10 win over Washington, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted Kirk Cousins deep in Giants’ territory in the third quarter and then at the Giants’ 25 in the fourth to essentially seal the win.

Any special satisfaction from the award? Rodgers-Cromartie shook his head. “I’m just a worker, man,” he said. “Just go to work and do my job. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.”

But DRC has definitely been something more — much more — this season. With the team signing free agent Janoris Jenkins to play on one side and drafting Ohio State’s Eli Apple to play the other, Rodgers-Cromartie had to learn to play inside for the first time since being drafted in the first round in 2008. He has alternated playing inside and outside, depending on how coordinator Steve Spagnuolo deploys his players.

“At the end of the day, you spend your whole career on the outside, once you’re out there, it’s like being at home,” DRC said. “The nickel spot was challenging. I’ve just got to continue to learn and contribute, and it stuck with me.”

Rodgers-Cromartie said the challenge this week will be the greatest the Giants have faced this season. They face a red-hot Aaron Rodgers, who has 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last seven games.

“Aaron Rodgers makes it happen,” he said. “Once he gets outside the pocket, you can’t be looking to see what he’s doing. He can throw it off his back foot 60 yards down the field. It comes down to being disciplined and staying focused on your man and not doing anything else.”

The Packers beat the Giants at Lambeau Field in Week 5, but Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) and Apple (hamstring) were hurting. DRC thinks the secondary’s performance level will be much better. “We’re a little healthier this time,” he said. “It’s going to be a different ballgame.”

DRC likes the Giants’ chances mostly because of what this defense has turned into. It finished dead last in 2015, but the Giants now look to it as the team’s greatest strength. “You go from 32nd to a top 10 defense, you don’t see that too often,” he said. “They added in some great pieces, had a good draft class, and it jelled together.”

And the oldest guy in the secondary is having the time of his life. The players now go by the nickname “NYPD,” an acronym for New York Pass Defense — a moniker suggested by Newsday’s Tom Rock and embraced by the defensive backs.

“It’s been a fun season, just playing a lot of different positions, going out there having fun,” he said. “I’ll tell you, this secondary group is keeping me young. Got a lot of funny individuals. On top of that, you’re winning.”

Rodgers-Cromartie hopes the winning continues Sunday . . . and well beyond.

Three members of the NFL’s top 10 in interceptions will be on the field Sunday at Lambeau:

7 Casey Hayward,SD

6 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Giants

Quintin Demps, Hou.

Marcus Peters, KC

5 Landon Collins, Giants

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, GB

Stephon Gilmore, Buf.

Jordan Hicks, Phila.

Reggie Nelson,Oak.

Xavier Rhodes, Minn.

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