Safety Antrel Rolle Is Fueling New York Giants' 2013 Turnaround

Kevin Boilard@@KevinBoilardCorrespondent INovember 12, 2013

Antrel Rolle has been the heart of the Giants defense.
Antrel Rolle has been the heart of the Giants defense.

On Sep. 5, three days before disaster struck, the New York Giants made what may have been their most important personnel decision of the year.

It wasn't a surprising cut or last-minute signing, it was the naming of ninth-year safety Antrel Rolle as a team captain.

Rolle joined veteran captains Eli Manning, Justin Tuck, Chris Snee and Zak DeOssie. The former Arizona Cardinal, who was made the NFL's highest-paid safety when he joined the Giants in 2010, was honored to have earned the trust of his teammates after only three seasons with the squad.

“It’s something I never even imagined would take place,” Rolle told the New York Daily News. “I’m definitely ecstatic for it. And I thank my teammates for even having that trust in me, that accountability to name me captain. I’m extremely honored.”

Rolle is the only one of New York's five captains not drafted by the Giants.

As everyone knows by now, Rolle's first season as a captain got off to a tumultuous start. The Giants dropped their first six contests, plummeting to the bottom of the league's standings as the countdown to the Super Bowl being held in their home stadium gradually ticked away.

During those first six games, Captain Manning was throwing a league-leading 15 interceptions. Captain Snee was battling a hip injury that would eventually land him on injured reserve. Captain DeOssie was spearheading a special teams unit with serious issues of its own.

Even Captain Tuck was finding himself at the center of trade rumors, as CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora reported (h/t's Will Brinson) in early October that the pass-rusher with just half a sack could be dealt away with the Giants steadily falling out of contention.

Captain Rolle kept preaching that his team could turn it around, but few were still listening to the boisterous defensive back's seemingly outrageous claims.

Rolle has always been outspoken, even when he was the new guy in New York's locker room.

After his first season with the Giants—a 10-6, postseason-less campaign that featured a late-season collapse—Rolle took to the airwaves with then-teammate Kenny Phillips to discuss the team's troubles on Miami's WQAM. He pinned some of the blame on Tom Coughlin's coaching style.

"I feel like if [Coughlin] just loosened up just a little bit, still run the ship the way you want to run it, still run the program the way you want to run it but let us have a little fun...because at the end of the day that's what it's all about," he said (h/t

Adding insult to injury, Rolle then praised Rex Ryan's coaching style. Phillips chimed in with agreement.

Rolle has emerged as a team leader since he was named captain.
Rolle has emerged as a team leader since he was named captain.

Then, the following day, both players clarified their statements. Phillips offered a politically correct quote about how grateful he was that the Giants drafted him in 2008 and stuck with him through the microfracture surgery he had on his knee in 2009.

Rolle, on the other hand, stuck to his guns.

"I love New York," Rolle told "I don't think I could have picked a better place to play. I love the atmosphere, I love the organization. I like the coach. I understand what he is trying to do. But he has to understand it is 2011. Things have changed."

Things did change in 2011.

No one has ever questioned Rolle's honesty. He will often say exactly what's on his mind, whether or not it is the "right" thing to say. Look at the comments he shared with the New York Daily News just last week concerning the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying scandal in Miami. He had nothing to do with the situation, but openly shared his feelings, which unsurprisingly landed him in a bit of hot water.

So when the Giants fell to 7-7 late in the 2011 season, it wasn't startling to hear Rolle call out some of his own teammates for not pushing through injuries. His comments could have been toxic. The safety opened the door for controversy within the locker room.

Instead, the team reacted favorably, winning six straight games—including Super Bowl XLVI—and displaying an unprecedented level of dominance along the way. Rolle was now a champion, and several of the very teammates he called out were now two-time champions.

Maybe they could learn something from the new guy, the sometimes-scathing member of the secondary.

Championships can change people, and while winning a Super Bowl didn't really change Rolle—he's just as outspoken and honest as ever—it did change how others perceive him. His voice has become a respected one in the locker room, as opposed to the nuisance it was when he first criticized Coughlin on the radio in January of 2011.

Antrel Rolle's Career as a Giant

Rolle's play on the field justified it as such too. He has been amongst the team's leaders in tackles in each of the past three seasons, racking up 87 in 2010 and 96 in both 2011 and 2012.

In doing so, Rolle has assumed a variety of duties, including slot corner and at times even some linebacker-type assignments to go along with his traditional safety responsibilities.

In response to those who believed he'd be a cap casualty following the 2013 season, Rolle is quietly assembling his most productive campaign as a Giant.

Rolle is halfway to 100 tackles. He already has three interceptions, a mark he twice eclipsed as a Cardinal but never reached as a Giant. And after having just a half-sack from 2010-2012, he already has two this year.

If Rolle feels any additional responsibility in his first year as team captain, it has manifested itself in the Giants' current three-game winning streak. After his defense allowed at least 27 points in each of the first six games, Rolle and company have clamped down on opponents.

New York's defense now ranks just outside the league's top 10 units, allowing an average of just 329.7 total yards per game.

The stout defensive front—anchored by a core of hefty defensive tackles and supported by the newly acquired Jon Beason at linebacker—has been credited with the turnaround.

But what about the way Rolle has held the secondary together despite the losses of ball-hawking Stevie Brown and longtime starter Corey Webster?

It's the leadership, which Rolle told SiriusXM NFL Radio is the best in the NFL, that has turned the defense—and the whole team for that matter—back into a contender.

The Giants have their sights set on a lead in the division and Captain Rolle is plotting the course.


Kevin is a New York Giants Featured Columnist and Game-Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here.