EAST RUTHERFORD - When the New York Giants released Michael Boley in a salary-cap move after missing the playoffs last season, many expected Jacquian Williams to inherit the weakside linebacker job.
It didn't happen.
The Giants are making Williams work for the starting gig, and they are not making it easy for the third-year pro who missed six games in 2012 with a knee injury.
When training camp opened last week, Spencer Paysinger, whose experience has been mostly on special teams in two seasons, worked with the first team. Williams went on with the second unit.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't say why Paysinger has the nod for now. However, he said Williams has to prove he can stay on the field, something he did as a rookie, making 61 tackles.
Williams sidestepped questions about playing behind Paysinger, saying it's early in camp and he's just working hard to impress the coaches.
"Nah, it's not disappointing," Williams said. "It's just this time, continue to keep pushing forward, my opportunity will come. It's only what, day three, day four? It's time. I have my time to prove myself just like he will."
Williams might be the only linebacker the Giants have who can stay on the field in all situations. He is quick, covers tight ends well in passing situations and he isn't afraid to take on a runner.
"That's the goal," Williams said. "My goal is to be the guy that we can count on, the guy that you count on you never take him out. I don't want to come out. I want to be the guy they can trust."
A sixth-round draft pick in 2011 who made contributions to the Giants' Super Bowl win that season, Williams seemingly was a rising star until tearing his posterior lateral ligament against San Francisco on Oct 14. He struggled to get back and he didn't return until early December, and wasn't very effective.
He was limited even in the minicamp in June.
"I'm good. I worked hard this offseason, been a long way coming back from the injury," Williams said. "It definitely was a humbling experience to watch guys out there play."
The linebacker position might be the most open spot on the roster. Besides losing Boley, middle linebacker Chase Blackburn was signed by Carolina and strongside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka has been moved back to defensive end.
"It's an open opportunity for everybody," said Williams, who was defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul's former teammate at South Florida. "We're gonna stick together. The position is not for the person, it's for the position."
Williams has been impressive in recent days. He knocked down two passes on Monday, insisting he probably should have intercepted one.
When the team put shoulder pads on for the first time Tuesday, Williams knocked second-year tight end Adrien Robinson to the grass covering a pass, and was in the backfield breaking up a run seconds later.
"For me it's the mental game, knocking down balls, doing things like that," he said. "I've been doing that since Pee Wee so that's nothing different. Yeah, just to get back out there and have the guys jumping around and being excited for me, I feel at home."
NOTES: The defense seemed to have the better of the play for the second straight day. CBs Aaron Ross and Junior Mertile intercepted passes for the second straight practice and LB Aaron Curry added another. ... New York experimented with a jumbo defensive line, playing Justin Tuck and Cullen Jenkins at the ends and Linval Joseph and Shaun Rogers inside. ... Eli Manning threw a red-zone TD to Victor Cruz, while Curtis Painter, No. 4 on the depth chart, hit Jerrel Jernigan for a score. ... Rookie QB Ryan Nassib hasn't looked good going deep. His passes float and wobble. ... First-round draft choice OT Justin Pugh got beat a couple of times, and later got an earful from line coach Pat Flaherty after an illegal procedure penalty. ... LB Dan Connor and DE Adewale Ojomo scuffled briefly on a kick coverage drill. No punches were thrown.