ARLINGTON, Texas - Terrell Thomas is back. Now he wants his return to be award-winning.
The cornerback, who has missed the past two seasons with ACL reconstructions, said one of his goals this season is to be named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. He'll have some hefty competition in the category if players such as Darrelle Revis and Robert Griffin III can return to form after their own ACL surgeries, but Thomas already has worked out a deal with another possible candidate.
"I texted Brian Cushing, I said: 'You got the bank, let me get Comeback Player of the Year,' '' Thomas said in reference to the Texans linebacker's recently-signed six-year, $55.6- million extension. "He was happy to oblige.''
Cushing also is coming off an ACL injury. What separates Thomas from that group is that he's returning from two in a row and three in his career (he had his first in college).
"There's a lot of us coming back off ACLs and other injuries and we're all going to be competing for that,'' Thomas said of the award. "It's a great honor to be honored by your peers, but that doesn't define my season at all.''
That Thomas could have a chance to help the Giants' define theirs is the big plus in his mind. On Sunday night, he was on the field for a regular-season football game for the first time in 980 days. He might not yet be back to the level he was when he injured his knee for the first time as a Giant -- on the verge of Pro Bowl consideration after leading the team in tackles and interceptions two years in a row -- but the coaches clearly saw enough of him in the last month, since his activation off PUP, to throw him into the opener against the Cowboys.
"We think he's ready,'' defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "We're not going to shy away from putting him on the field. We believe that he's going to go out and prove himself, and we like the way he's looked in practice as well as the preseason games. It's game time.''
Thomas gives the Giants something they haven't had in recent years: a true nickel back who can play physically in the slot. In the past few seasons, they've had to use Antrel Rolle in that spot. Thomas also can play safety in a pinch, something that might come to pass with only three healthy true safeties on the roster -- one of them a rookie with one preseason game under his belt.
Since he began his journey back a second time just about a year ago, Thomas has said he would return not as a cornerback but as a football player. Now he could fill in at so many spots in the defense that his good friend Rolle has taken to calling him "Little 'Trel.''
It has not gone over well with Thomas.
"We have to nip that in the bud right now,'' Thomas said, jokingly threatening to fight Rolle if he doesn't stop. "I think he's just excited because he don't have to play nickel no more. He can go back to playing safety.''
And Thomas can just go back.
He said he thought he'd be more emotional when he stepped back on the field Sunday night than he was when he returned for his first preseason game two weeks ago against the Jets. He said he was more excited than emotional in that game. He still was trying to win a job, get on the roster.
The fact that he did hit home for him on Wednesday, he said, when he came home from what he called "my first day of work in two years'' and dived into preparations for an upcoming opponent for the first time in two years.
"It was humbling for me that I overcame so much and am able to be in this position,'' he said.
Now that he's here, it's time to contribute. And maybe even be in the conversation for that award at the end of the year. But just making the team and being the second known player to suit up in the NFL after three ACL reconstructions is an honor.
"It's not a problem,'' he said of the possibility of not winning the award. "I've done enough overcoming two ACLs and I'm just happy to be back.''