The unbusting of Prince Amukamara?

Prince Amukamara. (nfl.com)
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A weekly column about what the Giants are up to when they're not playing football.

Tom Coughlin praised Prince Amukamara this week, which seems like the first bit of positive news about Amukamara since the Giants thought they lucked into drafting him with the 19th pick last year.

Amukamara was injured early last year, then extremely ineffective: Quarterbacks posted a 125.0 rating and a 70 percent completion percentage on balls thrown in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus stats. This offseason, he received an injection in the foot that he broke during training camp last year, thus proving that he hadn’t been healthy all along and wasn’t healthy yet.

But finally the foot is well enough for him to practice, and finally some praise from Coughlin, who told reporters, “It’s a whole different year for him, really, since he has had that experience and a lot of that is behind him. He’s doing a good job. Hopefully, he’s going to continue.”

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If Amukamara bounces back and shows promise this year, then his poor rookie season will easily be chalked up to the time he missed with his injury, something exacerbated by the lockout-shortened training camp.

It’s important for the Giants short and long-term plans that Amukamara develops: Terrell Thomas, penciled in as one starter at cornerback, is no sure thing both in terms of health and performance in his first year back from an ACL tear. Corey Webster had an excellent year last year, but will be 30 this year and a free agent after the 2013 season.

Behind them on the depth chart is a pair of unknowns: Jayron Hosley, a third round draft pick who projects as a slot corner, and Amukamara.

As a first-round pick, he has a legacy to uphold: It’s striking how much the Giants’ success in the past several years owes to how spectacularly their first rounders have panned out. Dating back to 2004, the Giants’ first picks have been Eli Manning, Corey Webster, Mathias Kiwanuka, Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips, Hakeem Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul and Amukamara. (Webster was actually a second-rounder, but was the Giants' first pick in 2005.)

At its best, that list includes potential Hall of Famers (Manning, Pierre-Paul) and Giants Ring of Honor members (Nicks). Ross is probably the worst player of that group, but even he made huge contributions as the best cornerback of the 2007 championship team. There is not a bust among them, and Amukamara doesn’t want to become the first.

ANOTHER INDICATION THAT THESE ARE NOT YOUR FATHER'S Giants: They ran play-action passes the fourth-lowest percentage of the time in the league, and they were third-least effective at doing so, according to FootballOutsiders’ DVOA metric, which adjusts raw yardage statistics by game situation and opponent. (Note: My column two weeks ago erroneously stated that the Giants used play action on the third-lowest percentage of their plays, not the fourth.)

Conventional statistics concur: On play-action passing plays, the Giants averaged a fourth-to-last in the league, at 6.3 yards per play. On non-play-action passes, they averaged a league-best 8.0 yards per play.

The dearth of play action places the Manning-Gilbride Giants offense at the opposite pole of the Phil Simms-Ron Ehrhardt offense of the 1980s, whose passing game was almost entirely predicated on play action.

Rivers McCown of FootballOutsiders makes the insightful observation that the Giants’ lack of play action is related to their heavy use of a single-back, single tight end formation: They used this formation 44 percent of the time, but only ran the ball 18 percent of the time out of this set. This explains why they only used play action out of that set nine times all year.

VERY NICE PIECE BY JASON COLE on Jason Pierre-Paul’s mental growth as a football player. Cole draws a connection between JPP’s uninhibited personality and the fact that he’s not shy about asking questions to master the details of the game.

Mathias Kiwanuka, quoted in the story, put it well: “With Jason, he doesn’t care. He’s smart enough to know what he doesn’t know and he’ll keep asking and asking and asking. If he has to ask something five times, he will until he gets the answer that he understands. He’s not just a great athlete trying to get by on talent. He wants to learn.”

Normally, I’m skeptical about “X Player works really hard” stories. But this one was so specific in the details of exactly how this is true of JPP that it has much more legitimacy. JPP’s work ethic, combined with what Justin Tuck described in the story as athletic talent superior to that of both DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers, should make Giants fans extremely excited.

IT TURNS OUT THAT CHRIS CANTY WAS PRETTY hampered with a knee injury last year: He recently estimated that he was operating at 80 percent from mid-November-on, Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger reports.

Getting a fully healthy Canty back, along with returning starter Linval Joseph and 2011 second-rounder Marvin Austin (who missed his entire rookie year with an injury), gives the Giants a glut of potential top-line talent at defensive tackle.

Joseph was recently featured on Pro Football Focus’s Secret Superstar series, though “superstar” is an overstatement for a player who was good but not great last year. Still, Ben Stockwell’s column notes that Joseph was the site’s highest rated defensive tackle in the playoffs, during which he had the most quarterback pressures and stops of any defensive tackle.

For depth, the Giants have Rocky Bernard, who recently signed a one-year deal, and former Pro Bowler Shaun Rogers, who is also on a one-year deal but has missed spring practice with an undisclosed elbow injury. Markus Kuhn, a sixth-round pick, will also compete for a roster spot.

It’s likely that the Giants will carry only four defensive tackles and five at most. Canty, Joseph, and Austin should be locks. A training camp battle between Bernard and Rogers seems probable. Regarding Kuhn, Jerry Reese’s post-draft comments that he could contribute on special teams might land him on the roster.

Having talented defensive tackles is great, but the Giants need to stop the run better than they did last year, when they allowed the league’s 23rd best (or 10th worst) average of 4.5 yards. In Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, the Giants ranked 19th against the run.

HERE'S THE DEAL WITH THE JAKE BALLARD situation:

To prevent Ballard from occupying a spot on the 90-man roster each team brings to training camp, the Giants had to waive him, wait for him to clear waivers, sign him again, and then place him on Injured Reserve or the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Usually, in cases of players like Ballard, teams are able to do this; there’s believed to be a “gentleman’s agreement” when it comes to this kind of stuff. The Giants assumed that Ballard, who will not play this year as he recovers from both ACL surgery and microfacture surgery for torn cartilage, would clear waivers. And they were almost right: 30 teams did not make a claim for Ballard. But the Patriots, the 31st and last team eligible to place a waiver claim on him, did.

Now the Patriots will have to use a 90-man roster spot on Ballard. In return, they will control his rights as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent after the 2012 season.

This seems like a good tradeoff: A healthy Ballard is a solid ballplayer, and spots on the 90-man roster, which includes 47 players who won’t even make the final 53-man team, are hardly at a premium. Most of those roster spots, from 54 through 90, are filled by guys who have much less of a chance of being viable N.F.L. players than even the post-injury Ballard.

This invites two questions: Why is it uncommon for teams to do what the Patriots just did? And why would the Giants even take the risk of a team picking Ballard up just to protect the roster spot of a mere “camp body?”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick scoffed at the idea that he had violated an unwritten rule, telling Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, “First of all, there aren’t any unwrittens.”

(Which is fair enough, though Belichick has also been known to scoff at the written rules as well.)

But Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese weren’t thrilled. Coughlin was gruff with reporters and seemed to blame Reese, saying, “Don’t ask me those questions. I’m not the … I don’t have the answers for you. We’re all disappointed, that’s all.”

Reese was equally abrupt, saying in a Sirius interview, “I could explain it but I don’t want to explain it because it’s really irrelevant at this point.”

The Giants’ caught-unawares reaction to Ballard’s departure is reminiscent of the fallout after Steve Smith abruptly signed with the Eagles last year before giving the Giants a chance to match the offer.

Obviously, the fact that fans have so far has a much milder reaction to the Ballard personnel gaffe owes to the difference between the pre-injury Smith as one of the best receivers the Giants had ever had and the pre-injury Ballard as merely a solid complementary piece. But it also owes to the fan base’s renewed confidence in Reese: If Reese messed this one up, it’s probably not that big a deal anyway, and even the best mess up sometimes.

Sad as it is to say, the chances that Ballard ever performs as well as he did last year are relatively slim. And the chances that the Giants will seriously suffer for his departure come 2013 are even slimmer.

If there’s anything that the 2011 offseason taught us, it’s that players like Ballard and his predecessor at tight end, Kevin Boss, solid ballplayers who do yeoman work in a good system, are easier to find than we think.

AN EXTREMELY DRUNK DAVID DIEHL CRASHED his car into two parked cars in Astoria last Sunday, which underscores how lucky he was that he didn’t crash into two pedestrians.

Gary Myers called for the Giants to suspend Diehl for the first half of the first game of the season. That seems reasonable, but really, the N.F.L. and the NFLPA should get it together to institute a blanket suspension policy for DUIs. Currently, the punishment for a first offense is just a missed game check.

A blanket suspension policy would take out of teams’ hands the decision of whether to do the right thing at the price of competitive advantage. It would also underscore that drinking and driving is a big deal.

The Village Voice hazarded a guess at how much the 304-pound Diehl must have been drinking to get his blood alcohol content to .182, more than twice the legal limit. The assumption that Diehl had been drinking for three hours translates to 17 drinks.