INDIANAPOLIS — In February of 2011, CB Prince Amukamara and WR Jerrel Jernigan took to the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for what essentially was a job interview. As two of the participants in the NFL Scouting Combine, Amukamara and Jernigan had to prove to the entire football world in Indianapolis that they were strong enough, fast enough and smart enough to be good pro players.
Nearly a year later, a few things have changed, but not much. Amukamara and Jernigan were back Tuesday on the field at Lucas Oil doing interviews for Media Day, now as members of the Giant. This time their jobs were secure, but with the football world returning to Indy for Super Bowl XLVI, the two rookies again have a lot to prove.
"It's a good opportunity. I'm pretty much blessed to be on this team," Jernigan said. "My first year, my rookie year, to be in the Super Bowl; we just got to win it now."
Rookies have made big impacts in recent Super Bowls. In Super Bowl XLI, Devin Hester of the Bears returned the game's opening kickoff for a touchdown. Three years later, Saints P Thomas Morstead kicked onside to start the second half of New Orleans victory. And last February, Packers sixth-round pick James Starks was the team's leading rusher in the Super Bowl XLV win vs. the Steelers.
To reach this year's big game, the Giants have already received some important contributions from their rookie class. At no point was that more evident than in the NFC Championship game vs. the 49ers, when LB Jacquian Williams — a sixth-round pick — punched the ball out of San Francisco PR Kyle Williams' hands in overtime, setting up the game-winning field goal. Jacquian Williams said that all season long he and the other rookies believed they'd be able to come through when asked.
"We knew, especially on special teams, that we'd contribute to the whole season," said Williams, who added he wasn't invited to the Combine and had never been at Lucas Oil Stadium before. "We work hard and all that. "
The Giants' rookie class isn't loaded with star players, and the group as a whole has battled injuries. Amukamara, a first-rounder, broke his left foot the day after he signed his contract following the lockout. Second-rounder Marvin Austin has been on injured reserve since August. Jernigan — a third-round pick — has missed games because of a bruised hip.
The road wasn't easy. But considering where they were 12 months ago, the Giants' rookies are glad they've come full circle and returned to Indianapolis.
"It's definitely been a roller coaster; I've never been through so much in one year," Amukamara said. "Our rookie class has really been contributing. ... I think we're having a pretty good year."
Follow Eli Kaberon on Twitter