- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2008

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Aaron Ross got the opportunity because he was drafted in the first round and signed a contract with $8 million guaranteed.

Steve Smith got his chance because he also was a first-day draft pick following a prolific college career at Southern California.

But the rest of the New York Giants’ 2007 draft class? All were thrust into larger roles than anticipated because of injuries. And all have responded.

The fifth-round pick, Kevin Boss, a Division II tight end, is starting for the injured Jeremy Shockey. Sixth-rounder Zak DeOssie, the Ivy Leaguer, leads the Giants in special teams tackles this postseason. And the two seventh-round picks — running back Ahmad Bradshaw and safety Michael Johnson — both have played big roles.

Seven of the Giants’ eight draft picks are expected to be in uniform when New York faces New England in the Super Bowl on Sunday night.

The draft was the first spearheaded by new general manager Jerry Reese, who was previously the Giants’ director of player personnel.

“When you first bring them in and they’re so very young and they’ve got that look in their eye, you’re trying to find a role for them,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “Many of our guys have been forced into much more complex roles than what our initial thought was.”

Combined with sixth-round pick Adam Koets (a reserve offensive tackle who will be inactive) and undrafted free agents Geoffrey Pope (who played at Howard), Danny Ware and Michael Matthews, the Giants’ 53-man roster includes 11 rookies.

By comparison, the Patriots have two rookies — quarterback Matt Gutierrez and safety Brandon Meriweather.

“Throughout the preseason, guys started to fall into their roles,” Johnson said. “You could tell we would have to produce. That’s when I realized it would be a special group of guys. And if it wasn’t, people would see. We had to step in and play a lot.”

Ross was eased into the lineup before making his first start in Week 4 against Philadelphia. He has started 11 of 18 games with three interceptions and nine pass breakups.

“Sam and R.W. [McQuarters] along with the coaches fed the important things to the young guys like Aaron early on,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “Aaron didn’t seem to get fazed. He jumped right in there. He played in some regard like he was a veteran, but there were still kinks that he had to work out.”

Smith, the Giants’ second pick, had a more difficult road to the Super Bowl. In Week 2, he sustained a broken scapula that, followed by a hamstring injury, forced him to miss 11 weeks. It was about that time Sinorice Moss was injured and Smith assumed his spot after Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. He hasn’t given it up.

Smith had only eight regular-season catches but has nine receptions in the postseason.

Second-day picks Bradshaw and Boss are playing big roles because of multiple injuries at their position.

In the Giants’ first seven games, Bradshaw was inactive three times and limited to special teams in two other games. The coaches saw the quickness, but he needed to get up to speed in the other areas of being an NFL running back.

Bradshaw’s 163 rushing yards in the playoffs lead the team, and he has become such a big part of the offense that he no longer returns kickoffs.

Injuries gave Boss his chance. A big player (6-foot-6, 253), he also stayed on the sideline early in the season, going three weeks without playing a snap. His first NFL catch didn’t come until Nov. 11 against Dallas.

That all changed when Shockey went down against the Redskins in Week 15. In the last five games, Boss has started and totaled eight receptions.

Outside of Ross on defense, Johnson plays the most of the rookies. DeOssie and Jay Alford handle the long snapping.

In training camp, Johnson caught position coach David Merritt’s eye by learning both safety positions and for a big hit on ex-Giants running back Ryan Grant.

“We normally go goal-line live once a week during the camp, and he laid a hit on Ryan Grant, and when he laid the wood, I thought, ‘OK, we’ve got a hitter,’ ” Merritt said.



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