Bradshaw taking on leadership role

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The regular season is still a month away, but Tom Coughlin and Justin Tuck have noticed a difference in Ahmad Bradshaw.

The running back has been more vocal in meetings, on the field, and even has been doing more interviews.

Bradshaw has been the Giants' lead running back the past couple of seasons, and always led by example with his hard-charging play. But Brandon Jacobs was always the voice of the running backs and the team's biggest vocal presence on offense.

He got teammates pumped up with animated pregame pep talks, and provided the Giants with a bully-type swagger by talking trash to opponents on the field and talking smack in interviews off the field.

But Jacobs' booming voice and bruising runs now reside in San Francisco. And not long after seeing his best friend leave, Bradshaw began the process of filling the vocal void left by Jacobs.

"He has stepped up and been more of a vocal leader on that offensive side," Tuck said. "I definitely have [seen] and heard it too.

"We didn't necessarily need him to be vocal," Tuck continued. "But you can see now that it is kind of like a weight lifted. He loves Brandon and Brandon loves him. But you can just tell it is weight lifted where he can take on that spotlight right now."

Tuck knows something about emerging out of the gigantic shadow of a massive personality. He took on more of a leadership role after Michael Strahan retired in 2008.

Strahan and Jacobs are two of the most outspoken and radiant personalities the Giants have had in their locker room in the past decade.

But new voices always emerge.

"You know what: I'm more of a leader," Bradshaw said, when asked why he has become more vocal. "Put it like that."

Bradshaw, 26, will always try to lead first with his fight-for-every-yard play. But now he has taken charge of the running backs' room and is trying to be a mentor to younger backs like first-round pick David Wilson.

And unlike in years past, when he politely preferred to stay out of the media spotlight and go about his business while letting his buddy Jacobs do most of the talking, Bradshaw has been more of a presence in interviews this summer. He understands he is one of the main leaders and faces of the offense.

"I don't know if it has anything to do with Brandon being gone," Coughlin said. "I think it has to do with Ahmad really feeling ownership for this team. He was that way in the spring and he's been that way [in training camp]. He's been encouraging, he can say some things that are kind of biting once in a while.

"But the guys have come to expect that -- the fact that he will say things of that nature if it isn't where it should be," Coughlin added. "He backs it up with the way he plays."

The Giants' locker room already had an immense amount of respect for Bradshaw. Teammates often refer to him as the toughest player on the team, churning his legs for every yard despite often playing through painful injuries.

But now there is a voice to go along with the heart.

"Us on defense, we consider ourselves kind of like the thugs of the team," Tuck said. "We're always talking trash in meeting rooms or on the field. When we make a play against their offense, we are always saying, 'You guys need to do better than this, you guys need to come with it.'

"He is kind of like the only one over there that talks back to us," Tuck continued. "You can tell he is comfortable with that role this year. Especially he has some younger guys in that running back room, they are going to need him to lead the way and he has definitely stepped up and done that."

Even though this is his sixth NFL season, Bradshaw enters 2012 highly motivated. He wants to revive a running game that finished last in the league in rushing last season and to become a 1,000-yard rusher again, like he was in 2010. He hopes to carry a bigger load as well with Jacobs gone.

His feet and ankles feel healthy after he had an injection in the offseason to help his foot heal.

And clearly a more vocal Bradshaw has added a "biting" -- as Coughlin put it -- bark to his game this year.

"There's something to prove for us as a running back group," said Bradshaw, who was limited to 12 games last regular season due to a foot injury and had 659 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. "We love to prove everybody wrong and that's kind of the attitude we take offensively. Being in the leader role, I just take advantage of it and try to help the young guys as much as I can."

Tuck is eager to see how Bradshaw grows and assumes Jacobs' leadership role.

"I have never [seen] Ahmad without Jacobs … so I don't know what the real Ahmad is [like] in that light," Tuck said. "I know he probably has the biggest heart of anybody on this football team. We know what to expect from him when he steps on the football field banged up or not. That guy is going to give you 100 [percent].

"For me, it kind of worked out where right when Strahan left, I had a great season and it kind of quieted a little bit of doubt," Tuck said of the 12 sacks he had in 2008. "Bradshaw is more accomplished than I was when Strahan left. But it is probably a good analogy."