Keith Bulluck might just get his shot Monday in Dallas.
Funny thing to say about a 10-year veteran who, until knee surgery ended his 2009 season, was a model of durability for the Tennessee Titans. But now, 10 months after they fixed his ACL and three games after turf toe put him on the sidelines again, the Giants' strongside linebacker is hoping to contribute against a 1-4 division opponent he knows will be playing for its season.
"It's been very frustrating," Bulluck said. "It's frustrating when you've been the type of player you've been for so long, where a team can rely on you, and then you come somewhere else where you want to make an impression and you get off to a slow start. Being hurt the last three games isn't something I'm accustomed to, but I'll get back on track."
Actually, the toe injury isn't the only reason Bulluck hasn't seen the field. Although he struggled a bit physically in practice last week, he might have played if the Giants' had had less success in the past with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's new three-safety alignment, which provides decent run support as well as coverage as either Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant walk up to the linebacker level while Kenny Phillips handles the deep middle.
It has worked well against teams with strong, deep receiving units. And with Bulluck more of a run-stopper at this point in his career, he became expendable.
With Felix Jones and Marion Barber in the backfield, and receivers like Miles Austin, tight end Jason Witten and Roy Williams, the Cowboys are more balanced, though their fourth-ranked passing game is clearly more effective than their 23rd-ranked ground game. And though Fewell said that won't affect how he uses the three-safety setup, he said having Bulluck back would be a plus.
"When you look at an opponent, you figure out which packages will work," Fewell said. "It doesn't really lessen the three-safety package at all."
As new as injuries are to Bulluck, the use of the word "package" is just as new. For most of his career, Bulluck never came off the field. Now, the Giants are working him in and out of personnel groupings and down-and-distance situations.
"I just try and make sure I stay on top of the opponent as if I'm going to start and play the whole game," Bulluck said. "I don't change anything about that, so that when my number's called, we don't miss a beat.
"It's frustrating, but I understand the situation. When adjustments need to be made, I hope I fit into that puzzle. I'm just a small piece right now, but hopefully as the season goes on, I'll become a bigger piece. But right now, we're shutting teams down and taking teams out with the three-safety package. It's all about getting wins, and I came here to be on a team that puts themselves in a position to win a championship."
"You just got to take what you get right now. The only reason I'm in this situation is because I got hurt last year. I honestly believe that if I didn't get hurt, I would have been one of the top free agents at my position, and there wouldn't have been a package situation anywhere. But I'm fortunate to be on a team and be around football when a lot of people thought I was done."
He might just return Monday night. He moved well in three days of practice this week.
But it's no guarantee he'll be out there. But if he is, it will mean the Giants are confident he can stop Barber and Jones who, between them, have rushed for 404 yards and a 4.0-yard average.
"My knee is okay, and now it's turf toe," Bulluck said. "There's a whole bunch of stuff going on with No. 53 right now."