Injuries will force the New York Giants to shuffle their linebacker corps again this weekend. Inconsistency will force changes in the secondary when the Giants, who need a victory at Oakland to secure their first division title since 2000, face the Raiders on New Year's Eve.
Rookie Corey Webster, who has played primarily as a nickel defender this season, will replace Curtis DeLoatch as the starter at right cornerback, as coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis seek stability at the key position. The start will be the second for Webster, who started Nov. 27 at Seattle, when the Giants opened the contest in a dime alignment with three cornerbacks and three safeties on the field.
A second-round draft pick from LSU, Webster anticipates that Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins, who has openly acknowledged a revenge motive in playing against his former team, will come after him.
"Even if I don't consider myself as a rookie anymore, not after  games, I'm sure they still see me that way," said Webster, who likely would have been a first-round choice in the 2005 draft had injuries not plagued him through his senior season. "I'm sure they'll come after me, and I just have to be ready for the challenge."
Their disappointing season aside, the Raiders statistically rank 13th in passing offense and possess plenty of weapons. Collins remains prone to interceptions but allowed that he has special incentive this week, since he remains upset the Giants cast him off after acquiring Eli Manning in the landmark 2004 draft day trade.
New York is No. 25 in defense versus the pass, and the secondary is coming off a rough outing last week in a loss to the Washington Redskins. Left cornerback Will Allen was beaten by Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss in the game, and DeLoatch misplayed an option pass by tailback Clinton Portis that went for a touchdown.
A physical presence in the secondary, DeLoatch has started 12 games in place of regular starter Will Peterson, sidelined much of the season by a back injury. DeLoatch has skills but is very raw, and Webster has improved steadily over the course of his rookie season. DeLoatch, who has one interception and 12 passes defensed, will serve as a nickel corner Saturday, a role he filled before Peterson's early season injury.
DeLoatch was benched in favor of Peterson for stretches of the second half last week and allowed he was not surprised when he was demoted for this weekend's game.
"I don't know if I lost the job or it was taken away," DeLoatch said. "It was the coaches' decision. I guess the coaches feel [Webster] is the better man for the job, or else they just want to see him play. They brought him in here and Corey is their guy."
Webster has yet to record his first interception but has four passes defensed, has posted 32 tackles and is consistently around the ball.
While the switch to Webster was made in hopes of immediately upgrading the secondary, it could have implications for the future as well. The Giants' cornerback situation for 2006 is up in the air. Allen is eligible for unrestricted free agency, and there have been no contract extension negotiations for the former first-round pick. Peterson continues to recover from a stress fracture in his back.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.