The goal for New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara last year was a simple one: Stay healthy and play all 16 games. This had been a problem for Amukamara in his first two NFL seasons, so the Giants made it clear to him before 2013 started that his focus should be on durability and availability.
"And he did that," secondary coach Peter Guinta said last week at the end of the team's minicamp. "He played all 16 games, every game getting better. You could see him improving by being out there. He understands the defense better. He's much more comfortable here. And now he's starting to take some chances and make some plays because of that comfort. He's really starting to grow up that way, where he understands the game."
The Giants' 2011 first-round pick, Amukamara has been a solid player when healthy but only has three interceptions in his three NFL seasons. He has said he'd like to make more of an impact as a playmaker, and Giunta described a practice play from last week on which Amukamara jumped a Victor Cruz "in" route and helped Antrel Rolle intercept Eli Manning.
"Now he's starting to gamble a bit and take some chances, which you like to see because you want guys thinking, 'Hey, I'm going to make a play,'" Giunta said. "He's evolved that confidence in himself and the defense, and he knows what's coming."
Amukamara himself said last week that he feels different this year without former Giants corners Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross in the locker room. He credits those guys with helping educate him about playing -- and playing cornerback -- in the NFL and believes their absence marks a key point in his own career and development.
"I feel like those guys sharpened me. They really helped me learn and grow," Amukamara said. "Now, I feel like it's my turn to take that big step on my own and be a leader and up my game. I'm the oldest cornerback here among the guys who have been here. That feels kind of weird, but it lets you know, 'Okay, it's time to take it up a notch.'"
The Giants picked up Amukamara's option for 2015, which means they have him for about $7 million that season if they want him but can cut him without penalty prior to Week 1 of 2015. They also signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie long-term and Walter Thurmond for one year and are very deep at the position for 2014. Amukamara knows his future with the team is uncertain, and he's eager to prove he's worth a long-term commitment from them.