Prince Amukamara watches practice from the sidelines during NY Giants...

Prince Amukamara watches practice from the sidelines during NY Giants practice at the Timex Performance Center. (Aug. 5, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Joe Epstein

The Giants are excited about the imminent return of Prince Amukamara to the football field. He was their first-round pick, a player they felt they stole with the 19th overall pick. They thought he could make an immediate impact in the secondary at the beginning of their season, before he broke a bone in his foot.

So what can they expect from Amukamara now?

They really have no clue.

"That's such an unknown," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said.

Amukamara joined the team late as it was, the last of the first-rounders to report to training camp. He participated in one full practice, and midway through his second, he was limping off the field toward an X-ray machine, toward surgery, toward 11 weeks of recovery and rehab. This in a season when there was no contact between the team and players during the summer due to the lockout.

While the Giants are still excited about what he can add, they've never seen him line up against an NFL receiver for more than a few half-speed snaps. He's been participating in classroom work and meetings with the team and defensive backs, has spent time in practice working with cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta on making calls and reads, but so far all he's done is essentially read the operation manual on a 747. Now he's next in line for takeoff.

"You can know the playbook like the back of your hand and then when you get on the field everything is going so much faster with the motions and so many different checks and you have to make that decision within seconds before the ball is snapped," Amukamara said .

"Sure, he'll be behind," Giunta said, "but hopefully we can bring him along slowly and we can give him a limited role to get him started and then gradually increase his role, just like you do with rookies in general."

If Amukamara is able to jump into the cornerback rotation and help out in substitute packages, that would be a tremendous boost for the Giants. The team's plan heading into the season was to have Terrell Thomas slide inside as a nickel corner and put Amukamara on the outside against three-wide looks. But when both players were injured, they turned to safety Antrel Rolle to cover the slot receivers. Having Amukamara on the field with starting corners Corey Webster and Aaron Ross would free up Rolle to be more of a playmaker than a cover guy. It would also allow the Giants to move safety Deon Grant up closer to the line of scrimmage, where he was most effective last year, rather than deep.

"I hope that's their plan," Grant said. "We'll see."

There are plenty of concerns. The secondary hasn't exactly been operating with tight communication this season, ranking 16th in the NFL in pass defense with 245.8 yards allowed per game. So, throwing somebody new into the chatter could be disruptive.

"We are so far ahead in how we are preparing and how we're thinking and how the communication process and the chemistry with the players on the field is right now," Fewell said. "As much as we want him to come back, that's a piece that you have to put in and then kind of work with and find out how it works."

He's also a rookie, and Tom Coughlin is generally slow to trust first-year players even when they've had a full offseason program, training camp and several weeks of game experience.

It may not matter for a few weeks. While Amukamara appears to be ready to return to practice on a limited basis Monday when the team reconvenes after the bye, it could be another week or two before he is in game shape. While it would be nice to get him a few snaps against the Dolphins, there is a chance his first real NFL experience will come against Tom Brady and the Patriots on Nov. 6. That's quite an introduction, but for Amukamara, who has seen other first-round picks making an impact around the league, it's been a long-enough wait.

"That kind of makes my blood boil a little bit because I know I could be making an impact on this team," he said. "I can't control that now, but I know as soon as I'm ready to go I'm going to give it all I got."

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