The training wheels are off Kenny Phillips.
"The easing [in] part, I think, is over," Tom Coughlin said of the safety, who has been baby-stepped through most of the preseason, beginning with the first week of training camp spent on the physically unable to perform list. "We're going to see what he does."
While Coughlin did not directly say that Phillips will start against the Panthers on Sunday, he did have Phillips working with the first group alongside Antrel Rolle in yesterday's practice. That's a sure sign of what the team is thinking in terms of its lineup. It's also a sure sign that Phillips has put behind him September's microfracture surgery on his left knee to combat patellofemoral arthritis.
"I mean, for them to already have me penciled in as a starter, I must be doing something right," Phillips said. "It was my goal when I first came in here. I knew it was going to take some time, I knew we had a schedule as far as the coaches and the trainers that we had to keep up, and thus far we're right on time."
Phillips, 23, has been coming along slowly in terms of his playing time but has looked good when he has been on the field. It started a week into training camp with two reps here, two reps there. Then there were six snaps in the second preseason game. He played more in the final two preseason games and now it appears he's ready for a full day's work against the Panthers.
He said he has no concerns about his knee being ready.
"I had two preseason games to get ready for that, running into people, attacking, falling on the ground, so I'm not worried about that at all," he said. "I feel like I'm ready to play."
So, too, does Deon Grant. Although Phillips' return to the lineup should be a feel-good story, not everyone is overjoyed. Grant, a 10-year veteran who was brought in to bolster the position in case Phillips was unable to progress, likely will see his 144-game starting streak snapped on Sunday. That isn't sitting well with him.
"It's going to be a hard adjustment," Grant said, starting to prepare himself for the inevitable. "It's going to be an even harder adjustment knowing that I'm not a backup."
Grant, 31, said he knew he was just holding the job down while Phillips recovered. But he also said he thought he would have a few games to show what he can do before the Giants inserted Phillips. He wanted there to be a competition for the job.
"My goal was to come into the league and play and start and start and start until it gets to the point where I can't start no more," Grant said.
He got his first taste of the "no more" Wednesday when Phillips was taking reps with the first-team defense and Grant was off to the side.
"I've been trying to put myself in that position, knowing that he was taking the first [reps] and seeing how I would accept it," Grant said. "I didn't get comfortable with it."
Grant said he's never not been a starter, so he doesn't honestly know how he'll feel about it come Sunday. But he did say that he would be an asset to Phillips and called him his "little brother."
"There's no problem between me and him," Phillips said of their relationship. "He was coaching me up today. We're the best of friends."
And while Grant may be happy for Phillips on some level, he can't help but wonder what it means for his own career.
"As far as me personally, I'm not going to sit here like it's all peaches and cream," he said. "It might take me a minute to adjust to that."