Looking for a Prince: Amukamara injured
As quickly as the Prince was given to the Giants, he was taken away even faster.
Rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara was the last of the first-round picks to sign his deal and as long as his holdout lasted, the former Nebraska star’s maiden campaign was taken away just as quickly. Amukamara injured his left foot in Saturday’s practice just one play into his first official training camp. Prince suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone and will need to undergo surgery to have a screw inserted. There is no timetable for his return.
Head coach Tom Coughlin said he was “shocked” when first told of the severity of Amukamara’s injury and added that he doesn’t believe it had anything to do with Amukamara’s lengthy absence.
“I have no idea how [the injury happened]. He had some issues working out [but] he had no communication with us [during the holdout]. All he said was that he was sore in that area, too … but who knows,” Coughlin said, adding the Giants have some experience dealing with foot injuries. “It’s shocking and it’s most difficult but we’ve done this before.”
Left tackle William Beatty also suffered a foot fracture last season and missed 10 weeks. While admitting he’s not a doctor, Coughlin hopes Amukamara’s return date is shorter because of the weight disparity.
“It’s a lighter athlete, Beatty being an offensive lineman and having to be able to push like he pushes,” Coughlin said. “Everybody’s got to be able to run so we’re just guessing. I don’t know.”
When Amukamara recalled the injury he said it initially didn’t feel like anything serious. He actually participated in another play until his foot gave out and he could barely stand. That’s when he knew something serious happened and required medical assistance on the sidelines of the Timex facilities’ indoor field.
“I was in press coverage and the receiver [Duke Calhoun] just stopped and I stopped with him and when I just came out of the cut [he knew something was wrong],” Amukamara noted. “It was just one of those random injuries. I’m really down on myself. I feel like I let the team down and myself down.”
What may feel like a curse actually has small blessings in that Amukamara has plenty of case studies within his own locker room. The rookie noted that besides Beatty, Ahmad Bradshaw and Aaron Ross have also dealt with serious feet injuries and he’ll be seeking out their veteran leadership soon.
Ross acknowledged that while he knows Amukamara was drafted to eventually take his spot, he’ll do whatever he can to help the youngster get back on his feet.
“As long as he stays on top of the mental part of the game [he’ll be OK]. We drafted him for a reason in the first round, so we know his physical ability is better than most,” Ross said. “As long as he’s on top of the footwork, everything else will fall into place.”
Beatty will be more than willing to keep Amukamara’s spirits up but warned the neophyte about the long and arduous road to recovery.
“The treatment and rehab wasn’t the easiest thing I had to go through [but] the hardest part was having to stay focused. You are still in meetings and you are still taking notes and doing things like that but you are not able to get on the field on Sundays,” Beatty said, adding the initial pain is like a sprained ankle that you can’t walk on. “He has to know he is surrounded by a good team of doctors and specialists that will take care of him to the best of their abilities … the coaches, everyone, want our safety and for us to play for many years.”
Amukamara wasn’t the only defensive back to go down with an injury over the weekend. Cornerback Bruce Johnson was lost for the season with a ruptured right Achilles. The third-year vet, who was coming off a torn ACL last season, was then waived. Coughlin was despondent when talking about Johnson.
“Very sorry and very sad about Bruce,” Coughlin said. “That’s two years in a row — the ACL and now the Achilles. We were all stunned by it because there was no reason why it should have happened. He was just backpedaling.”
Ross said he still believes Amukamara will help the team this year.
“I told him that he is going to be a big help to us,” Ross said. “Going down the road, we get nicked up pretty often with all the press- and man-to-man coverage we do. We play a lot of nickel package, so we need a lot of depth at corner right now.”
Amukamara acknowledged he’s already chomping at the bit to return and will fill whatever role the team has for him.
“I have confidence and I’m sure the Giants have confidence in me, too. It’s up to me still. I still have to continue to grind in the playbook and be ready whenever I’m healthy.”
Dealing with distractions
What the Giants have lacked in free agency sizzle, they certainly haven’t lacked in drama.
Whether it’s the shocking and untimely cuts of beloved veterans [Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert], the Ahmad Bradshaw negotiations, the defection of valuable tight end Kevin Boss, the Osi Umenyiora saga or now the loss of Prince Amukamara, there hasn’t been a shortage of storylines.
All these factors have led to an unusually drama-filled training camp for the Giants, who are used to their New Meadowlands co-tenant being the bigger soap opera. Due to the aforementioned sidebars, questions abound. Unfortunately, the condensed camp schedule isn’t allowing for easy transition.
But as usual, head coach Tom Coughlin isn’t allowing his team to feel pity. He simply shrugs and tells his team to do a better job of adapting.
“We’re always going to juggle [because] we have other issues here and we’ve got issues there,” Coughlin said when asked if he’s concerned with the amount of guys missing practice time. “But we still have to keep some kind of balance so we can go ahead continue to practice like we want.”
Coughlin said the real key is getting quality reps, but if guys are getting stretched too thin that’s when problems can arise.
“Our big guys are averaging about 21-22 plays a practice and there’s still guys on the back end around 28 or 29. We could stay on schedule with [those numbers] but once you start picking away at it and you lose a guy here and you lose a guy there, you’re talking about starting to reduce your snaps,” he offered. “And when you do that you really have a lot of people that are going to lose the snaps they’d be able to play in the games and do what you want them to do … it’s a double-edged sword.”
Despite all the subplots that training camp offers Coughlin feels his team is in a great mindset and won’t let themselves get sidetracked. According to the coach, when someone is absent or hurt that’s just an opportunity for someone else to step up. He used the departure of Boss as a prime example. Now that Boss is a Raider — and Ben Patrick also abruptly retired — there’s a gaping hole at tight end. Coughlin said it’d be prudent for one of the younger guys to take a firm grip of that spot.
The departure of the veteran tight ends has had a ripple effect on the offense because Coughlin said he’s “not sure” what he’ll do with tight end/fullback Bear Pascoe. Should Pascoe, who filled in admirably at fullback last season, go back to tight end full-time that’ll leave undrafted rookie free agent Henry Hynoski as the starting fullback. Hynoski is the only fullback on the roster and is receiving a crash course on the position by former Giants fan favorite Charles Way.
“He’s done well with it [starting role] and is a pure fullback,” said Coughlin. “Hopefully, he’ll be the physical presence that we need. He catches the ball very well and hasn’t had a lot of problems with assignments, which has been real good.”
Slot receiver is also up for grabs since Steve Smith is still unsigned. And even if he was signed, it’s highly unlikely Smith, who’s recovering from microfracture knee surgery, would be available anyway. Domenik Hixon, who’s working his way back from last season’s torn ACL, feels he’s the frontrunner right now.
“I feel comfortable there. I’ve been watching Steve for the past four years do it,” Hixon said. “I took a lot of things that he did well and tried to incorporate that into my game.”
The lanky [6-foot-2, 180 pounds] wideout is known more for his excellence in the return game but said the brutal and fast-paced life of a returner can certainly help his transition to the slot.
“Playing in the slot has a lot more contact with linebackers and different things like that,” he offered. “You’re expected to block linebackers. That’d probably be the biggest difference. But I can do that.”
Brandon Jacobs is also someone not afraid of contact and said he relished a recent conversation with Coughlin, in which the coach said to expect a bigger workload.
“I want to have a lot of carries, no question about it. I want to have a lot of touchdowns and a lot of yards. 1,000 yards is a lot, definitely, and something that I will be aiming for,” Jacobs said, quickly adding winning comes first. “I want to win. It’s not about money and everything else. I want to be able to get out and win games because at the end of the day you could be rich as you want to be and not win any games … you’ll just be an unsuccessful former player with a lot of money.”
Jacobs added that a larger workload will also help Bradshaw stay healthy and in turn make the offense more of a threat.
“I can take the whole load, no question about it. 200 carries is certainly reachable. I’ve done it before but the way this league runs you’ve got to have two backs,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to be able to have two healthy backs in order to win. It doesn’t matter who is out there first … that doesn’t bother me. I just want to win.”
Big Blue notes
» Coughlin said even in hindsight there’s no telling if the Giants would’ve handled Boss’s contract talks differently: “I can’t speculate on that. I have no idea. I don’t think anybody saw this coming.”
» Eli Manning said he’s going to miss Boss a lot and added the replacements are going to have to work hard to gain that level of trust, particularly in the red zone: “[Travis] Beckum doesn’t have the size of Boss but he’s very fast, gets in and out of his breaks well, and has a good understanding of the offense. He’ll give us some different things that Kevin didn’t have … but there are some things that Kevin did better, too.” He said Pascoe’s versatility is a bonus: “With Bear, the guy knows the offense, is a hard worker, and he’s played every position for us from fullback to tight end so you can use him in a lot of different ways.” Manning also noted Jake Ballard, the largest of the three at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds: “He’s a guy who’s big and strong and a good blocker. We’ll have to mix things up.”
» Beckum said he’s sad to see Boss go but relishes the newfound opportunity: “I’m ready to do whatever I have to do and whatever they ask me to do. There is not a reason why I shouldn’t be [the every down tight end]. I’m doing it in practice and getting those [first team] reps.” Beckum added he needs to be as consistent as his predecessor: “I think a lot of times you saw spurts. I lacked as far blocking my first two years but the more reps the better…I need to capitalize on those opportunities and be consistent every day. ”
» Plaxico Burress was still on Jacobs’s mind over the weekend: “It was very upsetting [Plax signing with the Jets] but I understand where he was coming from. He wanted to come back here. After two years of telling me this and that his mind kind changed. But no matter what happened to him in the last two years the man still wanted to be compensated in a good way so he went where the most money was … he said he didn’t have a problem with coming back but he wanted to be compensated for the type of play that he’s going to give.”
» Hynoski is quickly becoming a favorite with the coaches because he’s a traditional fullback who likes contact: “To be a fullback you have to love the game and you have to love hitting people — and that’s what I do. I just love playing football and hitting people … you have to be [a little crazy] to be a fullback. I’m a gentleman off the field but on the field I’m a totally different person and like to work myself into a frenzy.”
» Umenyiora isn’t all too thrilled to be a Giant these days, but reserve defensive end Dave Tollefson is happy to return. The popular Tollefson signed a one-year deal over the weekend. Tollefson said the one-year route isn’t much for security but he’s just happy to be playing for Big Blue again: “I’ve been buried on the depth chart here [with] two All-Pros in front of me and two first round picks also. Like I said, is the grass always greener? I kind of found out maybe it isn’t … obviously I’ll have to go through that again next year but I’ve signed one-year deals for the last five years so it has no bearing on anything that’s happening now.”
» Mathias Kiwanuka said the D-line will be trouble this year for opponents: “I think the versatility that I provide, along with the skill and the potential that the rest of the defensive line and the linebackers have, it’s going to be dangerous.”
Kiwi added he had other offers but none as enticing as the Giants: “I’m not going to get into where I was going to go. At the end of the day, this was the best fit, the best chance, and the best opportunity I have to get back to the Super Bowl.
Follow Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for live updates from Giants training camp.