EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — Despite being a three-time loser when it comes to major knee injuries, Terrell Thomas isn't ready to call it a career with the New York Giants.
Far from it.
While some players might have given up after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in their right knee twice in a year, Thomas still has hopes of starting for the Giants. The sixth-year cornerback doesn't care that he has not played a regular-season down in two years, or that he is attempting to return after injuring his right knee for a third time.
Thomas just wants to play the game he loves, and even the drudgery of a sweaty training camp in July and August or the loneliness of doing rehabilitation this week in minicamp won't take that urge away.
The 28-year-old knows the odds of overcoming a third ACL injury aren't in his favor.
"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."
Like most players coming off injuries, Thomas has been segregated during minicamp practices. While teammates run plays or work with their respective position coaches, Thomas usually spends his time with the trainers doing rehab work. Occasionally, he'll join the team and work in a scout-team role.
"I am very happy just being around the guys," Thomas said. "It's a been a long couple of years and just being around them and to train with them and mixing in scout team and helping out however I can, I am happy to be here."
Thomas led the Giants in tackles in 2009 and 2010 and appeared on the verge of becoming one of the league's top cornerbacks until he was injured in a preseason game against the New York Jets in August 2011, causing him to miss the team's Super Bowl season. The following summer he was back at training. On the third day of practice, he slipped and again tore the ACL in his right knee, marking the third time it happened. The first time was in college at Southern California in 2005.
"I never thought I wouldn't make it back,' Thomas said of his two-year hiatus." I just didn't want to. ACL rehab is really hard. I did it once in college and when I tore it up (again) I kind of knew what to expect, but to double back on that with really no time to really overcome the first one was kind of hard mentally, more than anything. The physical part just comes with time.
"Once I was able to walk, I was able to start feeling a lot better."
Thomas insists his knee is as strong as ever and he believes he is going to shock some people this season. He said there has been no swelling for the past four months.
"It's more just about getting comfortable and trusting myself without hesitating, without thinking, and just reacting," he said. "And I'm almost there."
There has been some speculation that the Giants are considering moving Thomas from cornerback to safety. They also could use him in a nickel formation.
"I'm whatever they need me to be," Thomas said. "I just want to play football. At this point in my career, it's all about getting healthy and getting on the field and contributing in any way. And if that's a leadership role, that's a safety role, nickel, corner, kickoff, whatever.
"I'll do whatever I've got to do."
While some may wonder whether Thomas can overcome three major knee injuries, the chances of recovering from an ACL injury have improved dramatically in recent years. Last season, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing just a year after his surgery, in fact.
Second-year defensive tackle Markus Kuhl, who also suffered an ACL injury last season, has used Thomas a sounding board during rehabilitation.
"We talk different symptoms. How he is feeling. How I am feeling. It is amazing how positive he stays through the process, being as good an athlete as he is and having to sit out," he said. "He looks good. I'm hoping the third time is a charm for him."
Third-year cornerback Prince Amukamara marvels at Thomas' perseverance and resilience.
"I definitely wish I had him in the meeting room the first two years because he knows so much about the game," Amukamara said.' "He is definitely like a coach. I can't imagine how he was on the field knowing what he knows."
Thomas laughs when asked about coaching, noting that teammates at Southern Cal used to call him "T-coach" when he was hurt in 2005 because he never stopped working with younger players.
"I love the aspect of teaching and helping other guys," Thomas said. "But I don't think I could take the time away from my family. I love the aspect of developing new talent and teaching kids, and I just love football. But it's just too time consuming. The amount of time I put in as a player, it's more as a coach."
And to be blunt, Thomas just wants to be a player again.
"It's hard to watch from the sidelines," he said. "To get out there and actually run around with the guys and make some calls and hopefully pick off Eli, it will be like old times."
NOTES: The afternoon practice featured two scuffles within minutes. Rookie defensive end Damontre Moore, a third-round pick, and free-agent guard Bryant Browning wrestled each other to the grass first. Free-agent cornerback Charles James and receiver Jeremy Horne tangled next with both getting knocked over by Browning, who also joined the fray. "They got a little feisty, a couple of young guys," said coach Tom Coughlin, who yelled at the team after the second incident. "There is no place for that."