Mr. Dependable

Brent Alexander has never given himself the luxury of taking anything for granted. By choice, he's spent his entire football career on a slippery slope, always aware of how close he was to slipping into a canyon and out of sight. <BR><BR>

It's been a vantage point he's found productive.

"Your mind is always focused on trying to play solid," Alexander said. "It's been the same this season. I walk out of meetings frustrated with the number of mistakes I've made in a game. Hopefully, you make some plays that help the team win. But the level you expect from yourself always needs to improve.

"Throughout the years, all players have a list of things they either can do or don't do well. I can name plenty of things on my list. So you continue to work on it. I can't afford to be behind a step. I'm always trying to be a step ahead, which makes it tough on me because I frustrate easier than I once did."

Ask any football coach about the composition of a dependable player and you'll hear the importance of perseverance. During the course of his career, that quality has been fundamental to the existence of Alexander, now the starting free safety of the Giants.

He was a walk-on at Tennessee State after turning down scholarships because he was frustrated with football after high school, but was an I-AA All-American by the time he was done. He was not drafted by the NFL, but made the Cardinals as a free agent in 1994 and is now in his 11th season in the league.

"It's all been a big experience," Alexander said. "It's been one opportunity after another. I've always been scratching and clawing, but now 11 years later, I can't ask for anything more," Alexander said. "If I was gone tomorrow, I can't say, "I wish.' I can't wish for anything more. Every chance I get to play is a bonus, a reward. I can't complain about anything."

Alexander is a Giant because of the familiarity Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis have with him. Coughlin faced him twice a year when Alexander played for the Steelers, a divisional rival of the Jaguars. Lewis was the Steelers defensive coordinator during Alexander's four seasons (2000-03) with the team.

"Tim had a strong relationship with Brent and was very excited when he became available to us," Coughlin said.

The attraction was rooted in Alexander's essential understanding of the game, a major must for players in Coughlin's ducks-in-a-row universe.

"Tim was excited because he felt Brent was a knowledgeable player," Coughlin said. "He was a guy who took a lot of responsibility on himself in terms of alignments and checks and getting people into the right positions. We felt he never was going to be a guy in the wrong position. He was a guy who would be accountable [for his actions]. That's how I remember him from his days in Pittsburgh."

But there was something even more attractive about Alexander. Since 1998, his first of two seasons with the Panthers, he has started every game at either free or strong safety, incredible durability for a position that encounters so much contact. He entered this season with a consecutive games played streak of 110, which he's increased by three since joining the Giants.

"That's a very strong attraction in our business," Coughlin said.

Said Alexander: "You get your dings. I've had to take it easy during a couple weeks of practice here and there to maintain myself. But I've been blessed. The Lord looks after me. I've been able to get up time after time no matter what. But I've seen stars, just like everyone else. I've had ankles and knees twisted to the point where I thought, ‘Uh, oh, this is it. But I've been able to get to the sideline, figure out that I'm OK and jog back onto the field."

Alexander was also known for making big plays. In 2003, he led the Steelers with four interceptions with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

"You don't have to evaluate how good a team is if it's getting turnovers," Alexander said.

If the Giants continue to deliver on Coughlin's demand for more turnovers players like Alexander will need to make weekly contributions. His first installment was made Sept. 19 against the Redskins when he had two of their four interceptions, two pass defenses and three tackles.

Alexander outlasted Omar Stoutmire for the starting job in training camp then took charge when Stoutmire injured his knee against the Eagles and was placed on injured reserve. Stoutmire had only one interception in four seasons with the Giants and Alexander doubled that within 12 minutes of the third and fourth quarters against the Redskins.

"Great calls, right place, right time," Alexander said. "One of them I have to give the defensive line. They hit the quarterback right as he was about to throw the ball. It was in the middle of the field, it was just like catching a punt [at the Giants 7]. The other one was in the end zone. All I thought as we were in the huddle was, I have to make a play. It was an important time and we didn't want to give them three, definitely not seven. There was an opportunity to go up and get the ball and I was able to come down with it."

It was third multiple interception game of Alexander's career, the others coming against Peyton Manning on a Monday night in 2002 and an AFC playoff game against the Ravens in 2001. And it couldn't have come at a better time for a defense in need of a boost.

"The biggest thing is putting one on the win side and coming to grips with the things you can do as a team," Alexander said. "Now we have something to build on."


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