EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After Prince Amukamara stuck with speedy Buffalo rookie Sammy Watkins on a go route in the New York Giants' preseason opener, Amukamara said he'd surprised himself. After he ran down speedy Pittsburgh rookie Dri Archer at the tail end of a 48-yard bubble screen in the second preseason game, it was time to ask the question: Did Amukamara somehow get faster this year?
The answer, apparently, is yes.
"I think, if anything, it has to do with my cleats," the Giants cornerback said before practice Thursday. "I wore these heavy cleats my first three years, and they were Adidas, and now I got into a different model, and they're much lighter. I love those cleats."
He's not kidding. The foot surgery Amukamara had during his 2011 rookie season required a screw to be inserted into his foot, and as a result, he says he had a limited selection of cleats that would fit him comfortably. Narrower, lighter cleats caused him too much pain when he ran. So he wore a bulky set of black-and-white Adidas cleats for comfort and safety.
"They were basically like lineman cleats. They were a heavy cleat," Amukamara said. "But they were just the most secure, most comfortable cleat. I never rolled my ankle, never had a problem with them. That's why I played in them, because they were the most secure. But now I have more of an athletic model, and they're lighter, so I'm able to move faster."
Amukamara was playing deep on the left side in a Cover 3 defense Saturday night when he saw Archer catch the ball near the line of scrimmage and cut all the way across the field to the right sideline. He was not familiar with Archer's reputation or the 4.26-second time he posted in the 40-yard dash at this year's scouting combine. All he could think about was not getting yelled at in Sunday's film session.
"When you're on one side and the ball's on the other side, you definitely don't want to be on film caught loafing," Amukamara said. "You don't want to be the one who's walking while the guy is running full speed. So we're always taught in practice to pursue pursuit angles and never run right at the person. So I headed straight at the pylon, and I caught him."
Amukamara's known as a solid technique corner, but he's not generally perceived as an exceptionally speedy one. But he said he was able to stay with Archer after pressing him, which told him it wasn't just the angle that helped him run the kid down.
"Everyone's telling me, 'This kid's fast!'" Amukamara said. "So I Googled him and I saw, 'Wow, this kid ran a 4.26 at the combine.'"
This is a big season for Amukamara. The Giants picked up his 2015 contract option, but he knows that's still not guaranteed. And after the team signed cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman in the offseason, there's more high-level competition at the position than there has been in recent years. Amukamara believes he needs to have a big year in order to secure his future with the team, which is why the shoes aren't the only thing he's changed.
"I think I just had a great offseason, been taking it more seriously, been doing different things in my training," Amukamara said. "So I definitely feel lighter. And body-wise, this doesn't really feel like camp, because my body's just been recovering so well."
He feels great, he's playing great, and he's energized by the new faces in the meeting room. He played college football with Bowman in his first two seasons at Nebraska, and he says Bowman's a natural leader whose advice he's happy to listen to. And Rodgers-Cromartie is trying to help Amukamara increase his meager interception numbers by encouraging him to be more aggressive.
"Sometimes I will use his aggressiveness, or just his advice: 'Prince, you see the play, jump it, believe it,'" Amukamara said. "And he said he's learned that from Asante Samuel. So you definitely don't want to do too much of that, but I definitely want to incorporate that -- if I see something, to just go."
It's possible Amukamara's a different kind of player in 2014 than he was in his first three years in the NFL. And if he is, and if you're wondering why ... start with the shoes.