With a spot on the team secure, the cornerback will look to once again become an impact player at a position that brings a fair amount of uncertainty for Big Blue. Whether he can rediscover what made him a rising star at the position just a few years ago will depend a lot on attitude, as well as inspiration from the only player to successfully return from a trio of ACL tears, Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis.
It’s easy to forget that as recently as 2009 and 2010, Thomas was right up there with Eli Manning as a player the Giants could depend on week in and week out. He started all 32 games in those two seasons while registering a healthy 2,023 snaps.
Thomas was not only durable but also effective. In 2009, he had his best NFL season to date, registering a 14.4 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required), five interceptions and 11 pass defenses.
The following year was not quite as successful, with a PFF rating of 0.1. He was still larcenous and active, however, with five more picks and 12 passes defensed.
The most encouraging and exciting aspect of Thomas’ play is that he was only 24 and 25 years old. It appeared that he was on his way to becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback.
Unfortunately, his right knee, which suffered its first ACL tear at USC in 2005, was unwilling to cooperate. Thomas tore it in consecutive training camps in 2011 and 2012.
For many, suffering a devastating injury to the same knee three times would be too much to overcome. Thomas, however, has tremendous resolve and determination (check out the video below for an emotional look at Thomas’ latest rehab).
Back in June, before playing in a game or even putting on pads, Thomas showed that if his comeback isn’t ultimately successful, it will be because his body failed him. It will not be because of his mind, as told by Tom Canavan of the Associated Press, via Yahoo! Sports:
The 28-year-old knows the odds of overcoming a third ACL injury aren't in his favour.
"I kind of like it that way," Thomas said Wednesday, the second day of a three-day mandatory minicamp. "My life hasn't been easy and I feel God has put things in my journey to make me overcome this. I have been through a lot of hardship and this is just another journey.
"I accept the challenge."
So far his body has kept pace with his strong mental state. Thomas was officially removed from the PUP (physically unable to perform) list on August 6 and played in his first game in two years against the New York Jets on August 24.
Overall, he logged a modest 49 snaps in preseason with -1.5 PFF rating. Thomas looked a little stiff and unsure of himself in his limited on-field action, but that is to be expected after a two-year layoff.
Luckily for the five-year veteran, he has someone to look up to in Davis as he tries to regain most, if not all, of his previous form. Actually Thomas appears to have it easy compared to the Panthers linebacker.
Davis suffered his three ACL tears consecutively, within a 23-month window, between 2009 and 2011. At the age of 30, he is also two years older than Thomas.
Still, Davis was able to come back in 2012, playing in 15 games and performing surprisingly well at outside linebacker. Over 798 snaps, he had a healthy 4.8 PFF rating and 101 tackles.
While Davis was putting together one of the more underrated comeback stories in the history of professional sports, he was also emotionally supporting the rehabbing Thomas.
If Thomas is able to accomplish in 2013 what Davis did last season, it will be a huge boost to the Big Blue secondary.
Even 80 to 90 percent of what Thomas was in 2009 and 2010 should be good enough to overtake the slot cornerback position from Aaron Ross and Jayron Hosley (he is currently behind both players on the Giants depth chart). If Corey Webster’s 2012 struggles continue, Thomas could be in line for a starting role sometime towards the middle of the season.
The Giants defense does not appear to be a dominant unit. They will rely on sacks and turnovers as a barometer of success more so than yardage allowed. Thomas’ playmaking ability will likely still be an asset even if he has lost a step.
Good hands and strong instincts, both qualities he possesses, are the backbone of how to be successful picking off opposing quarterbacks.
For now, though, Giants fans should just be happy that Thomas will be taking the field against the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday night. Many people, including myself, didn’t think he would make it this far. Thomas certainly wasn’t one of those people.