EAST RUTHERFORD - Last year, Rueben Randle was a second-round draft pick for the New York Giants, Stevie Brown was an unproven free-agent safety and Michael Cox was a graduate student in training camp at the University of Massachusetts.
Now Randle has more of a defined role with the Giants receiving corps, capitalizing on the offseason experience he gained during the absence of starters Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Brown, previously cut by two different NFL teams, is the strong safety after collecting a team-high eight interceptions.
Cox, a seventh-round draft pick this year, was the Giants' leading rusher in the preseason opener last Saturday against Pittsburgh.
The Giants are preparing for their second preseason game against Indianapolis on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. All three realize that they have a chance to contribute against the Colts and during the season.
"I know I definitely don't want to take a step back," said Randle, who was a standout at LSU before joining the Giants last year. "I want to keep moving forward. I want to become more of a play maker."
Randle caught 19 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns last season, starting one game and seeing action in all 16 contests. He said that he worked hard in the offseason, just in case Nicks or Cruz would not be ready. Even with both of the Giants' top receivers in camp, Randle is still doing his due diligence.
"I feel like I'm a better receiver now," Randle said. "I did a lot of work on my strength and conditioning."
Randle said that he feels so strong that he's willing to take on another role with the team.
"I'm ready to return punts if needed," Randle said. "I'm willing to do anything."
Brown was a nondescript player for both Oakland and Indianapolis in his first two NFL seasons, but flourished last year after injuries catapulted him into a starting position a month into the season. Brown, a product of Michigan, ended up with eight interceptions, second-best in the entire league, earning a new contract with the Giants. Brown could have been a restricted free agent.
With Antrelle Rolle unavailable with an ankle sprain, Brown has become the leader of the secondary. It's a complete turnaround from last training camp, when he was practically unknown.
"It's definitely different," Brown said. "I didn't have to do any interviews with this many people last year.
"I'm trying to be a little more vocal."
Cox spent four years at Michigan (Brown's alma mater), before transferring to UMass for his final year of eligibility. Cox was a redshirt freshman at Michigan in 2008 and was granted another year by the NCAA after getting his degree. He had only 19 carries in three seasons at Michigan, but rushed 198 times for 715 yards and five TDs last fall for the Minutemen in their first year as an NCAA Division I program.
Cox had nine carries for 33 yards last Saturday against the Steelers with a long run of 12 yards.
"I guess I still have something to prove," Cox said. "I really hadn't thought about it much. I knew that if I got my chance, I'd manage to figure it out. That's how I feel now."
I'm going out there and do everything I can to show my skills and make this team. Hopefully, the coaches saw something and I'll be out there again. I now have one game of experience. I do feel a little more confident, but it's only one game."
The Giants struggled with their rushing attack against the Steelers, gaining just 84 yards on 33 carries. Second-year speedster David Wilson, expected to be the starter now that Ahmad Bradshaw is gone (and will be active for the Colts against his former team this weekend), had just 16 yards on five carries.
Andre Brown, another veteran, had 23 yards in four attempts, but had a costly fumble. Third-year pro Da'Rel Scott had 12 yards on 10 attempts, leaving the door wide open for someone like Cox.
Giants running back coach Jerald Ingram didn't think it was a major cause for concern.
"I think we've got a good group," Ingram said. "Competition is the best thing. We're pretty excited about what we have at that position. We've had success in the past and that's where we're trying to keep a balance here. I think they're all excited about having the opportunity."
Ingram likes what he's seen so far from the 6-foot-1, 222-pound Cox.
"He's a very talented young man," Ingram said. "He has the ability to do certain things. Like all young running backs, he has to learn the system. We went through that with David (Wilson) last year in the same situation. Michael has to feel comfortable with learning our offense. And we have to feel comfortable with him that we can trust him in most situations. But he does show us a lot of good talent."
Cox hopes to show more of that talent on Sunday night.
NOTES: Terrell Thomas made another step in his remarkable recovery. After suffering two ACL tears, Thomas was getting looks with the starters at cornerback alongside Prince Amukamara . Dan Connor was with the first unit at middle linebacker, the first sign that Connor may have the upper hand over Mark Herzlich for the starting nod there .TE Larry Donnell made a catch, then went down, clutching his left knee. His status was unknown . Former Giants RB Brandon Jacobs, now an unrestricted free agent, was on hand watching practice. Jacobs, who still ranks fourth on the Giants' all-time rushing list with 4,849 yards from 2005 through 2011, scoring 56 touchdowns, played sparingly last year for San Francisco and was released before the end of the season.