Entering his 10th NFL season and fifth with the Giants, New York safety Antrel Rolle has emerged as one of the team's leaders and most reliable performers, with only four players pre-dating him on the roster. SI.com’s Don Banks caught up with the always quotable Rolle just before New York’s first practice of training camp at the team’s Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J., and went in search of answers about the Giants’ pivotal 2014 season:
SI: It was only 29 months ago this team won a Super Bowl, and yet the Giants are still very much a team in transition in 2014, with a new offense and offensive coordinator (Ben McAdoo) and so many familiar faces missing (Justin Tuck, Hakeem Nicks, Chris Snee, Linval Joseph, Brandon Jacobs, etc.). Does all the change that has occurred buy this team some time or simply create even more of a sense of urgency to win now?
Rolle: It’s definitely a win-now time here. There’s no room for error at this point. We know that we have the talent here. It’s up to us to go out there and put it together. We can’t make excuses for ourselves, because there’s transition on each and every team throughout the NFL, each and every season. We’re going to hold our heads high and hold each other accountable and go out there and do what we need to do for this franchise and for ourselves.
SI: The Giants haven’t missed the playoffs three consecutive years since 1994-96, but the franchise is now working on back-to-back non-playoff seasons and has failed to make the postseason in four of the past five years. Can you feel that pressure as this season begins, especially after that ugly 0-6 start to 2013?
Rolle: The attitude we have always have here is that we’re winners around here. The last two years we haven’t really displayed our best work. We understand that. We also understand that that’s the past, this is now. So we can dictate our own future right now if we just go out there and control what we can and do what we can between those white lines.
SI: From the other side of the ball, can you give me a sense of what (new offensive coordinator) Ben McAdoo’s offense looks like to you early on? It seems predicated on getting the ball out quickly, finding play-makers in space on shorter pass patterns and letting them do what they do best, without many plays that take a long time to develop?
Rolle: I see it as opportunistic offense. It allows guys to go out there and show their best tools. It allows guys to go out there and play with more of a comfort zone, relying more on their talent, and not asking them to do too much thinking or even over-thinking. It allows everyone to go out and be effective in what they’re doing, but more importantly it’s an offense where everyone’s going to be involved and everyone’s going to get their touches. It’s going to make us more versatile.
SI: As one of the Giants' team leaders, what do you make of some observers questioning whether or not we’ve already seen the best work of quarterback Eli Manning’s career and wondering if last year’s struggles were the start of his decline?
Rolle: People are always tied to their own opinions. There’s going to always be questions about all the players in the NFL. If they have a good year, they’re the best. If they have a down year, maybe they don’t have it any more and they’re done. We as players all understand that’s part of the deal. Eli didn’t have his best season last year. He’s aware of that. I can’t say anyone had their best season around here last year. Because we were 7-9. So it doesn’t matter what you do as an individual, when you’re 7-9, you’re 7-9 and it’s not a good season.
But I’m overly confident in Eli Manning. He has a look on his face when he walks around the facility as if he has something to prove. He has some ass to kick and we’re going to be right there alongside of him the whole way.
SI: The Giants signed two new cornerbacks in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of Denver and Walter Thurmond of Seattle, and both of them played their most recent game right next door at MetLife Stadium, in the Super Bowl. How much better is the Giants secondary after adding two players with recent Super Bowl history?
Rolle: Those two guys, for one, they want to win because they’ve been part of winning organizations and they know what that’s all about. And more importantly they’re both guys who love to go out there and compete each and every down. That’s something that you need on a team, because this league is new and improved every year. There’s a lot of swagger on teams now a days, a lot of winning demeanor that helps win games. Teams are playing with more attitude than ever before, and it seems like the teams with attitude, those teams nine times out of 10 are winning the game. It’s not always the most talented teams that wins, it’s the teams that go out there and want it more and have that winning attitude. I think that’s something that the organization here realized and we went out and brought those guys here to help us out with that.
SI: As a fellow secondary member and teammate, what was your honest review of Walter Thurmond’s bright-gold shorts suit that he rocked at the ESPY’s last week in Los Angeles?
Rolle: I think he’s in a league of his own. Definitely. But I wouldn’t mind being in that league. But you have to have the legs, the Thurmond legs, to pull that look off. Skinny thighs and big calves. But he’s a trend-setter, man. I’m not going to knock him for that. A guy’s swag is a guy’s swag, you know? He’s got confidence. First guy to wear a shorts suit and he makes his gold. He did it.