INDIANAPOLIS — The cameraman from the New York CBS affiliate handed off his equipment to Deon Grant and showed him the button he needed to push to start recording and, immediately, Grant went in search of interview subjects.
First, he stopped by the podium of his close friend, free safety Antrel Rolle.
“Hey, Deon,” Rolle said.
“Whatcha been talking about?” the former Josey star asked the outspoken Giants defensive back in a sing-song voice.
“Nothing,” Rolle sang back.
Soon after, the Giants safety took off Tuesday to find more teammates and more interview subjects. This is standard fare in any Super Bowl Media Day session, but Grant was different with a camera in his hand. He asked questions that the hackiest of sports writers would love. He got good answers. He made his interview subjects smile. He was cool, comfortable and confident in front of the camera and behind it. Then, with a smile, he reminisced about old-time Josey-Laney Friday night tilts.
Grant is no media superstar – he didn’t even have a podium to himself at Media Day – but there’s hardly anybody on the Giants squad who will be more important to his team when New York faces the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
“That was straight free-style,” Grant bragged after his camera-toting duties were complete. “I had no idea I was going to do that. But I took it upon myself to take on the responsibility.”
That’s exactly Grant’s attitude with the team. Not simply with shooting a mini-documentary for Media Day and then self-analyzing his own camera skills, but his role for the Giants, especially on Sunday, will rely on Grant’s cunning and his confidence. The last time the two teams met, when New York slipped by New England 24-20 in what was considered a big Week 9 upset, Grant was a major reason for the Patriots’ offensive inadequacies.
The Giants implemented a “Bison” package that day that utilized Grant as a linebacker-safety hybrid in which he covered New England star tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez while effectively stopping the run and occasionally blitzing Tom Brady. According to CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco’s research, Grant lined up as a linebacker 30 times that day, as a safety 26 times and on the line of scrimmage 13 times. He blitzed nine times, and he managed an interception on a pass intended for Gronkowski.
Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, an Albany, Ga., native who considers Grant one of his closest friends, said the reason New England lost that game was simply because his team didn’t execute, but there’s little doubt Grant’s performance across the width of the field discombobulated the Patriots offense.
“We mixed it up,” Grant said. “What really kept it off balance was me being able to play the run and then, sometimes, blitzing and dropping into coverage and playing man-to-man. It kept them off balance. It threw the rhythm off a little bit.
“But you have to have the brains behind it, too. It’s not just about the talent and being able to play all three of those different positions. It’s about the brain. It’s a difficult task, but I’m the person who loves to take it on.”
Grant’s impact on the team – which was 7-7 with two regular-season games to play and in serious trouble of not making the postseason at all – has been more than about just his ability to help knock off the Patriots.
A plethora of offseason injuries could have decimated New York’s defense and could have wrecked the team’s playoff chances before the season really began. But the behavior of Grant – a 12-year veteran who’s been in the Giants organization for the past two seasons – in the locker room this year as he helped acclimate the team’s young defensive backs was exemplary.
“I had to make sure I got inside their heads and got with them one-on-one to feel their heartbeat and see where their heads were at,” Grant said.
Grant might be expected to reprise his mid-season role Sunday. Though it’s almost assured that New York won’t be running the exact “Bison” scheme it did vs. the Patriots in November, Grant should continue with his starring role.
“He’s going to have to have some kind of impact,” said Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. “He’s going to have to show up. It’s a must.”
And as Rolle said before serving as Grant’s on-camera Media Day guinea pig, he expects nothing less.
“Deon has been a lot more than what he gets credit for,” Rolle said. “I don’t think the defense works without Deon – his leadership, his playmaking ability, his versatility. You name it, and he does it all.”