The suspension was hard enough to deal with. Tyler Sash had never been in trouble before, never run afoul of the law in any way, and for about five months after he tested positive for the prescription medicine Adderall and tried to appeal a four-game ban from the NFL the weight of it all was difficult.
"Am I going to get off? Am I not? Every day," he told Newsday. "That wears and tears on you emotionally, physically, everything."
Eventually Sash was suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season. It was, at least, a chance to put that chapter behind him.
But then, while he was away from the team but just getting ready to return, he saw his big opportunity. His chance. And he wasn't there to welcome it.
First Antrel Rolle had to leave the Week 3 game against the Panthers last year with a knee injury. The Giants had to replace him with a backup safety late in the game. With Sash not there, they turned to Stevie Brown. He wound up with an interception. Then in Week 4 starting safety Kenny Phillips injured his knee early in a game against the Eagles. Again, the Giants needed a backup safety. Again, Sash was not there and the job went to Brown.
Phillips wound up missing most of the season. Sash returned in Week 6 (he sat out Week 5 as a roster exemption), but by then Brown had established himself as the backup-turned-starter. Brown finished the season with eight interceptions (second-most in the NFL and the most by a Giant in a single season since 1968) and won two NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. He signed a restricted free-agent tender for $2.023 million this offseason.
"Definitely it was hard," Sash said of the situation. "I sit right next to Stevie, we talk every day. Nothing against Stevie at all. But knowing that could have been me ..."
Sash wound up completing a forgettable second season in the NFL. He played in seven games, missing the last four with a hamstring injury. He finished with three tackles on defense and four on special teams. It was a far cry from his rookie season when he was second on the team with 15 special teams tackles, another five in the playoffs, and was on the Pro Bowl ballot as a special teamer.
This year Sash is trying to get back to that level of production, and not just on special teams. He sees a role for himself on the defense - "I definitely do," he said - and is working to earn it.
"Each time I'm out there I'm trying to prove to the coaches that I belong here," Sash said. "I come from my rookie year and being on the Pro Bowl ballot for special teams? to obviously not getting off on the right foot with the four-game suspension and playing catch-up the rest of the season. I never really got to the type of football player that I can be and the type of player that I am. I was playing catch-up.
"This year everything is looking forward," he added. "I don't have to worry about anything, all I have to do is go out there and play football."
He's been playing on the second team so far in training camp, teamed with Ryan Mundy behind starters Rolle and Brown. On Monday he came up big with a tumbling interception in team drills. It's the type of play he said he can make now that he's comfortable.
"Going into my third year here I feel like I'm out there playing football now," he said. "I'm not having to think about each and every adjustment that I'm making, I'm starting to grasp the defense and learn what it takes to become a pro. When I was younger it was more of, even if I made a mistake I could just hustle to the ball. Well, now I don't feel like I'm making those mistakes and I'm still hustling to the ball. I'm putting myself in the right positions to make plays."
He's still far from secure on the roster. Mundy is a veteran backup who signed with the Giants after four seasons with the Steelers. The Giants also drafted Taylor Cooper at safety and intrigued by his size and skill. And when Terrell Thomas is healthy enough to come off the physically-unable to perform list following a third ACL reconstruction, chances are the former cornerback will be converted to a safety.
That puts the squeeze on Sash, but he's not worried. While he would love to stay with the Giants, he said: "I know what type of player I am and there are 32 teams in the NFL. If I put on a good camp, put on good tape, put on a good preseason, I'm going to be playing football somewhere."
In the meantime, Sash will wait for an opportunity to play in the Giants' defense. An opportunity like the one that came last year, but to someone else.
"I never want to see anybody injured or taken out, but that can happen to anybody," Sash said. "Everybody has their time. And my time will come."