EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Stevie Brown has not only taken Kenny Phillips’ job at safety with the New York Giants, he’s given defensive coordinator Perry Fewell his three-safety defense again.
Fewell used Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant in a safety package much of last season as a way to improve pass coverage while not losing anything against the run. But when the Giants failed to re-sign Grant, Fewell was ready to drop his three-safety defense.
With Phillips sidelined by a knee injury, Brown has emerged as a playmaker over the last month, snaring four of his five interceptions. And Fewell has no plans to take him out of the lineup Sunday when the Giants (6-2) play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3).
“We’ll find a way,” Fewell said when asked if all of his safeties would play. “All of them are good players and that’s a good problem to have. Kenny is back.”
Phillips hurt his knee against the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sept. 30 and Brown has more than replaced him. The former Michigan product had two interceptions and a fumble recovery and was named the NFC defensive player of the week on Wednesday.
Fewell hesitated when asked if Phillips would get his starting job back. Normally injuries don’t cause a player to lose his spot. However, the ball is just finding Brown these days and that spells turnovers.
“I think that Brown has been playing really well right now, so it’s hard to unseat him,” Fewell said. “We’ll find a way to get Kenny on the field.”
Fewell said that Brown’s play has forced him to start developing a situation where he can play three safeties. Again, that’s a good dilemma to have.
Brown has come out of nowhere. He played in Oakland in 2010 and with Indianapolis in 2011 before signing with New York as a free agent. Fewell said the 25-year-old caught his eye in the spring when he showed he could cover ground and catch the ball.
Despite a so-so training camp, Brown made the team and his game took off after an interception against Carolina in Week 3.
“I definitely felt I had it in me,” Brown said Thursday after practice. “I have always had confidence in my ability and I would tell anybody that any day of the week. It’s not so much surprising to me. I just like I have been able to play. I had an opportunity given me and I am just trying to capitalize on it.”
It’s not surprising that opponents have targeted Brown instead of the veteran presence that Rolle exudes. However, Brown has made them pay for that mistake. After practicing on a limited basis Thursday, Phillips said he was ready to play on Sunday against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, adding to the depth.
“They’re a great offense. They’re fast. All of their receivers can run. So I’ve definitely got to be confident,” Phillips said of the Steelers. “I can’t go out there if I don’t feel confident in my knee and that’s not what I’m going to do.”
Phillips, who missed most of the 2009 with a major knee injury, said it was tough sitting out again. He also laughed when asked about Brown’s picks.
“I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t see him,” Phillips, who is about two inches taller than Brown, said. “Half of the time, he would be sitting in the middle of the field and they would just throw the ball and he’s making them pay for it. He’s done a great job for us and he’s made a whole lot of plays.”
Phillips knows Brown may have taken his job.
“He did what he was supposed to do,” he said. “He took advantage of an opportunity. It’s rare that a guy loses his position to an injury, but it’s possible with the way he’s playing. I’m not worried about it. Whatever role they give me, I’ll take it. If I have to back up my backup, I’ll do it.”
The one question mark this week is Rolle. He missed the end of the Dallas game with what was first described as a concussion. He practiced on Thursday. Rolle said he was hurt avoiding a big hit along the sideline after an incomplete pass. He said he felt OK and was looking forward to play again, whether it be a standard two-safety formation or three.
“I think we can do whatever we want to do at this point,” he said. “It’s not our call to make as players. It’s just our job to do whatever we’re assigned to do, whatever we’re told to do and that’s all we’re going to continue to do.”
NOTES: Middle linebacker Chase Blackburn (hamstring) and tight end Bear Pascoe (ankle) missed their second straight day of practice. … RB Ahmad Bradshaw, who practiced on a limited basis, said the Giantshave a chance to buoy the spirit of the storm-ravaged people of New York and New Jersey with a win. “We feel like we can spark New York; just what we do, what we’ve done, I think we can help everybody.” … TheGiants are 1-0 vs. the AFC this season.