Prince Amukamara didn't discuss a definite role when he arrived in Jacksonville this offseason. He'll compete for a cornerback spot this summer alongside in-house talent -- nothing is given.
The one-year deal that now holds Amukamara's signature is additional confirmation of adversity. Amukamara measured several multi-year deals this spring, but decided to bet on himself with a probationary contract in Duval.
Truthfully, Prince hasn't earned anything more. Not yet.
Five years ago, Amukamara entered the league with eye-catching potential. The New York Giants spent their 2011 first round pick on Amukamara, investing in a speedy cornerback prospect with an intriguing blend of stature and strength. Over the past five seasons, Amukamara has demonstrated a grounded proficiency in many abilities, but not the most important ability -- availability.
Amukamara has played only 45 games in five seasons, missing five or more games in four out of those five seasons. Over time, injuries have limited Amukamara's opportunity to gather any kind of season-to-season momentum, and his development has suffered because of this.
Still, Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell has expressed very little concern over Amukumara's injury history. Prince's injuries have definitely been more unusual than typical -- none of the conditions in Amukamara's past have lingered or evolved.
It goes without saying -- Amukamara isn't a perfect prospect, even when he is healthy. Prince isn't necessarily even a seamless fit in the Jaguars secondary -- he's more tactical than he is aggressive. Amukamara also has a tendency to idle down a bit out of breaks -- a reoccurrence within his game film.
Amukamara's game film also embraces several striking competences. Most notable, I believe, are Amukamara's instincts. Prince has proven his ability to play on an island -- much like Davon House -- but his real utility lies within his zone reflexes. Amukamara can diagnose on the fly -- an ability that also assists him in run support. Prince gathered 76 solo tackles in 2013 and led the Giants in tackles per game last season. A lack of on-field time might be the reason that Prince hasn't achieved an acknowledged starting responsibility in 2016, but most fans and media are willing to place him in that role based on his skill-set alone.
Third-year cornerback Aaron Colvin could be the leading beneficiary of Amukamara's placement at starting outside cornerback. With Amukamara and House manning the outside, Colvin could occupy the nickel role -- the position he is best suited for.
Amukamara has played a full season only once during his career -- 2013. I've collected a pair of plays from that season that display Prince's utility when he is healthy.
The first match-up is against Dwayne Bowe. Amukamara uncovers a way to out-physical the physical receiver.
In the frame above, Amukamara presses against the receiver. The Chiefs are running a simple quick-slant play, and Bowe is the primary target.
At the snap, Bowe tries to dislodge Amukamara with a jab to the left. Amukamara remains disciplined.
Bowe then attempts to propel Amukamara off of his route. Bowe is fighting to remain underneath so that he can open himself up for the pass.
Amukamara, however, remains determined and somehow wins the battle for position. He intercepts the pass.
You don't see too many interceptions like this one in the NFL. A pure, earned takeaway -- not just the ball, but the route as well.
Prince also demonstrated his ability to play overtop in 2013 as well. In the play below, Amukamara prevents a huge Seahawks gain with a great play on the ball.
Doug Baldwin's route is drawn out in red. Amukamara (yellow) has a deep zone responsibility.
As the play unfolds and Baldwin turns toward the sideline, Amukamara maintains a tangential body position.
Russell Wilson loads up for the bomb. When Baldwin begins climbs the sideline, Amukumara is able to run step-for-step with him.
Wilson launches the ball. Baldwin and Amukumara both turn their heads. The Giants' deep safety begins to make his way over to the action, but he won't make it in time.
Baldwin and Amukamara elevate when the ball arrives. Prince doesn't interfere with the receiver -- an essential obligation for a corner in a jump-ball situation.
Amukamara meets the pass at the same time Baldwin does.
Amukamara swipes through, breaking Baldwin's grasp on the ball. The football falls harmlessly to the turf.
Amukamara's 2013 season was a campaign filled with promise and potential. Unfortunately, Prince was unable to carry his progress into the next season. Amukamara played just eight games in 2014, logging a minimal on-field impact.
Prince would continue to suffer through injuries in 2014 and 2015, making his way back to the field for the final six games of last season after recovering from a pectoral injury. When I began my initial research for this article, I uncovered a general consensus among many New York beat writers -- when Prince was inserted back into the lineup last season, he was noticeably "gun-shy" in his decision making.
This outlook intrigued me, so I decided to take a careful look at Amukamara in the last six games of 2015. Frankly, I struggled to uncover any visible instances of "gun-shyness." I saw a determined, recharged cornerback.
I'm willing to bet the Jaguars did to.
I pulled a couple of examples from Amukumara's last games as a Giant to demonstrate what I mean.
In this play, Amukamara is matched up against Devin Funchess. Funchess, a 6'5 redzone mismatch, is anything but an easy cover for a lone cornerback.
At the snap, predictably, Funchess attempts to use his size advantage. Amukamara doesn't back down.
As quickly as Funchess tries to cut inside, Amukamara shifts his position to remain in front of the big target.
As Funchess rotates to box Amukamara out, Cam Newton fires the pass.
Amukamara lunges in between the receiver and the ball, batting the pass to the ground -- a stab that a "gun-shy" corner probably wouldn't have attempted.
Earlier, I wrote about Amukamara's underneath-instincts. Toward the end of last season -- like most of his career -- Prince consistently met flat receivers near the line of scrimmage. The sequence below is a great illustration of Amukamara's play diagnosis.
I apologize in advance for the eruption of color in this one -- there's a lot going on. Teddy Bridgewater (blue) is going to roll out to his right. Bridgewater's slot receiver (red) is running a reflection route -- rolling out parallel to the quarterback. The outside receiver (orange) will take the overtop defensive back (green) deep into the endzone. Amukamara (yellow) will pass off the outside receiver as he examines the play.
At the snap, Bridgewater rolls out. Initially, Amukamara opens up to run with the outside receiver. The slot receiver heads toward open real estate.
As Amukamara diagnoses the play, he launches toward the underneath route. I circled the linebacker in this frame (black) to make a quick note -- typically, on rollout plays, it's a linebacker's responsibility to turn around and find the crossing route. Of course, the linebacker in this play (former Jaguar J.T. Thomas) had little chance at keeping up with the slot receiver. What makes this particular play beautiful is the backfield communication -- as Amukamara passes off the deep route to his willing over-top help, he is able to react quickly to the route unfolding below him.
By the time the receiver catches the pass, Amukamara is in full sprint. J.T. Thomas closes in from the left.
The receiver is able to juke the linebacker, but fails to avoid Amukamara's full-speed diving attempt. The play is held to a gain of two -- a sequence that originally appeared capable of much more.
By aiding their talent-hungry defense with assets like Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson, the Jaguars hope to achieve a level of harmonization like the one depicted above. Drafted reinforcements and pulls from free agency should help the team add to their pot.
Meanwhile, Prince Amukamara will continue betting on himself. A one-year commitment is something different than a marriage -- it's a trial built upon a foundation of potential and utility.
And the potential is there -- Amukamara just needs to prove it.