Jay Alford has stood out amongst a talented group of...

Jay Alford has stood out amongst a talented group of defensive linemen in training camp. Credit: Getty Images

Jay Alford wasn't loafing, but he wasn't going at 100 percent, either. For most of training camp, there was something holding him back - something not in his knee, it turned out, but his mind.

"I wasn't playing where I thought I could play at," Alford said of the first month of the preseason. "I thought it was the knee . . . It was just confidence more than anything."

That changed Monday when Alford took a deep breath and decided to let it fly. That it was almost a year to the day from when he was carted off the field in Chicago and diagnosed with a torn ACL in the second preseason game of 2009 could have had something to do with it. But for Alford, it was just that he was getting tired of not giving all he had.

"I finally decided to open it up a little bit just to get my confidence back," he said Friday. "I lost my confidence for a little bit and I wasn't really playing how I wanted to play. But it came Monday and I was like, 'You know what? I'm just going to see what happens.' And it felt good. I'm happy with it."

The bigger test will be when he "opens it up" Saturday night against the Ravens. He's played in the first two preseason games, but always with that psychological restriction. Now we - and he - get to see if he indeed is back to where he was last summer.

That would be the guy who was tearing through offensive lines, disrupting the offense in the backfield and making so many plays that it seemed he was in line for a starting job. Then came the surgery and the lost season on injured reserve.

On Monday, he showed flashes of those moves. He had to sit out Thursday's practice - "a little fatigue was setting in," he said of his knee - but he is all cleared to play Saturday night.

Tom Coughlin said he has seen Alford playing the way he did last summer "from time to time." But he'd like to see it more consistently, and unlike Monday, he'd like to see it against an opponent.

"I think the real test is to be able to hang in there and anchor down, be stout, brace yourself and fight your way through to the run," Coughlin said.

Alford already has fought his way through the injury and the nagging doubts that held him back this past month. The doctors gave him the green light a while ago. Now he's finally given it to himself.

Notes & quotes: WR Hakeem Nicks and Steelers S Ike Taylor each was fined $10,000 for their fight early in last week's preseason game . . . S Antrel Rolle, a teammate of Ravens WR Anquan Boldin in Arizona, said he thinks Boldin was "unappreciated" by the Cardinals. "I think he had a bitter taste in his mouth and it was really time for a change," Rolle said . . . WRs Ramses Barden (back) and Sinorice Moss (groin), C Shaun O'Hara (ankle/Achilles), RB D.J. Ware (concussion), TE Travis Beckum (neck), QB Jim Sorgi (shoulder), S Michael Johnson (back), CBs Aaron Ross (foot) and Terrell Thomas (calf), DT Chris Canty (groin) and LB Chase Blackburn (knee) are out Saturday night. DE Jason Pierre-Paul (groin) is questionable.

More Giants