Guys Worth Cheering For: Michael Cox

Rookie running back Michael Cox is battling for a roster spot at Giants camp. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Running back Michael Cox could barely get on the field at the University of Michigan.

On Saturday night, he might play a starring role in the New York Giants' first preseason game.

The Giants' starters are expected to play about one quarter in Pittsburgh. So Cox, the team's seventh-round draft pick this spring, will likely get several carries and might return some kicks as well.

"I'm not really nervous," Cox said Thursday. "I'm just excited. I'd say mostly just excited."

That's no surprise, considering the struggles Cox has endured in his young football career. After rushing for more than 2,400 yards in three seasons at Avon Old Farms High School in Connecticut, Cox elected to attend Michigan. In four years with the Wolverines, he played in just 12 games with a total of 19 carries for 169 yards.

After graduating from Michigan, Cox still had one year of eligibility remaining, since he redshirted as a freshman in Ann Arbor. The Boston native moved to the University of Massachusetts, where he led the Minutemen with 198 carries for 715 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.

The Giants brought Cox in for a pre-draft visit and selected him with the second-to-last pick in the draft, 253rd overall.

That put him one spot ahead of "Mr. Irrelevant." But Giants general manager Jerry Reese certainly viewed Cox as relevant in April.

"You don't see a lot of production, but if you look closely at this guy, we are excited about him," Reese said at the time. "He is big, powerful, elusive guy with speed. He has got a lot of things that we like about him."

Cox, 23, has looked good in training camp, although it's difficult to evaluate running backs in nongame situations. At 6 feet and 220 pounds, he's closer in size to Andre Brown (6-0, 227) than David Wilson (5-9, 205), but Cox looks awfully fast out there.

Cox also could be a factor in the kick-return game.

"I'm trying to make the team any way I can and contribute any way I can," he said. "If it ends up being that way, I'd be more than happy to do that."

Running backs coach Jerald Ingram likes what he's seen so far.

"He's a very talented young man," Ingram said earlier this week. "He has the ability to do certain things, but he has to, like all young running backs, they have to learn the system. You just can't toss them the ball and say, 'Go do this.' [It's] just like we went through a year ago with David in situations.

"He has to feel comfortable about learning our offense, and we're comfortable with him that we can trust him in most situations. But he does show us a lot of good talent out there right now."

The Giants have five running backs in camp, and Cox is listed fifth on the depth chart. But Ryan Torain, one spot ahead, suffered a concussion in Tuesday's practice and likely won't play against the Steelers.

That would mean more carries for Cox, as well as for Da'Rel Scott, who's listed at No. 3.

The third running back spot, behind Wilson and Brown, is up for grabs. And it could be an important spot. In 2008, the Giants featured the "Earth, Wind and Fire" trio of running backs, with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both rushing for more than 1,000 yards and Ahmad Bradshaw chipping in 355.

Speaking of Bradshaw, he was a seventh-round pick too. And he ended up posting two 1,000-yard seasons in six years with the Giants.

Could Cox do the same? Hey, you never know.