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SAM MADISON Big play the key SAM MADISON Big play the key
Email|Print| Text size + By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / January 31, 2008

CHANDLER, Ariz. - The New York Giants' secondary?

Stars of the past? Of the future? Journeymen? Super Bowl winners?

The group sounds like they are law partners, but the firm of Butler, Wilson, Ross, Madison, Webster, McQuarters, & Dockery have been passionate defenders this season.

Check out the Giants' depth chart for cornerbacks this season and in any given week you might find different combinations in the team's improbable run to Super Bowl XLII.

Dealing with Tom Brady and the Patriots is tough enough for a unit that has continuity, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has had to piece together part of the secondary, filling in gaps around safeties Gibril Wilson and James Butler.

"The cohesiveness of keeping those guys together has been great," said Spagnuolo, who replaced Tim Lewis in January. "The guy running the show back there, James Butler, has been invaluable. He gets everybody lined up. Gibril does a good job as an active, aggressive safety. The corners have been banged up here and there, but to their credit and to Peter Giunta, who coaches the corners, he's been able to get another guy ready to go out there and do their job."

Spagnuolo switched the Giants to primary man-to-man coverage and said the mixture of veterans and youth has worked well. "We were fortunate enough to have Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters, who have been through the wars," Spagnuolo said. "I always see them sharing things with the younger guys. Conversely, the young guys have gone to them and asked questions. I think it's worked out pretty well."

So who are these guys?

Madison was signed as a free agent in March 2006 and is an 11-year veteran. McQuarters is also an 11-year veteran whom the Giants signed as a free agent in 2006. Ross was the Giants' No. 1 draft pick last season. Corey Webster, a second-round draft pick in 2005, had the starting job at the beginning of the season, was benched, then came back in the postseason and started in the NFC title game against Green Bay as Madison and Ross nursed injuries.

Ross and Madison have been the Giants' most dependable cornerbacks, starting nine games together. But the Giants have used six starting combinations at cornerback this season, including Ross and Webster in playoff victories over Tampa Bay and Dallas. Webster and McQuarters, who has three interceptions in the last three games, started in the NFC title game.

Madison suffered an abdominal injury in the Giants' 38-35 loss to the Patriots in the regular-season finale, and was beaten by Moss for a 65-yard touchdown.

When asked this week how to deal with Moss, Madison, who tied for the team lead in interceptions with four, offered a key to the game. "Not giving him the big play," Madison said. "He's one of the best players in the league and if you go back to his first year in the league, people ask me who the best receiver is that you'll play, and he's one of those top three guys that I always list. When you line up against him you have to be at your best.

"He's so tall, so you can't let him get any separation away from you and allow Tom [Brady] to put the ball out there and go up for it because we don't have anybody 6 foot 5 that can check him."

Madison said dealing with the Patriots extends beyond covering Moss.

"It's a big challenge for us," he said. "If you look at the first weeks of training camp, people didn't think our secondary was any good at all. If I can get us to believe in each other, we'll be good."

The Patriots are certainly offering respect.

"It's a very good secondary," said Brady. "They've got a lot of guys who play, a lot of guys who have been in and out of the lineup in the last six weeks. We're preparing for everybody."

Madison said the unit has grown since the Giants opened the season 0-2. "If you look at the beginning of the year, nobody gave us a chance because of the things we did last year," he said. "We gave up a lot of yards and I believe we were last in pass defense. To bounce back and have a year like we did this year, I must say that I trust the guys we have in our secondary and I believe in them, and they have gotten us to the Super Bowl. Hopefully, we can get that W."

The unit has grown individually, as well. Webster had 10 starts last season and started the first three games this season before getting benched at halftime of the Giants' 24-17 win over the Redskins Sept. 23. He didn't reemerge as a starter until the playoffs, after Madison was injured.

All Webster did was snare an interception and recover a fumble in the Giants' wild-card win against Tampa, and he intercepted a Brett Favre pass intended for Donald Driver in overtime of the NFC title game, which set up the Giants' winning field goal. The interception was particularly satisfying for Webster because Driver had beaten him on a 90-yard touchdown pass earlier in the game.

Now the Giants are where no one really thought they would be a month ago.

"A lot of people had doubts outside the locker room," said Webster. "But we didn't lose any confidence in ourselves. We knew we were a good team, but everything takes time to get together. I think it shows where our team came from in Week 2 or Week 3 and where we are now, and that anything can happen."

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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