Can Will P. finally ‘pick' up his level of play?

It wasn't all that long ago that Will Peterson was considered one of the better young, up-and-coming cornerbacks in the NFL. Some thought the 2001 third-round pick might even turn out to be better than the Giants' first-round pick, Will Allen. The Giants thought so much of him that they even locked him into a long-term deal.

But now, as he begins the fifth training camp of his career, the 26-year-old Peterson finds himself at a crossroads. No one doubts that he's talented and that he's still full of potential.

But Peterson knows it's time for that potential to finally be fulfilled.

What does that mean for the 6-foot, 200-pound cornerback? Many things, as he works his way through training camp; but mostly it means it's time for him to start picking off some balls.

"I feel like personally, as a corner, I've done a lot of things – building block things," Peterson said. "I've gained a reputation with the receivers in the league. I've gained a reputation with the different coaches. They've seen me on the field. They know how I play.

"I think to take me to the next level, the Pro Bowl level, obviously the thing people have been harping on is the interceptions. As a group we haven't made a lot of interceptions and as a player I haven't made a lot of interceptions. So I think that's key in taking that next step to where I want to get to."

That's a familiar refrain considering how turnover-challenged the Giants' secondary has been the last four seasons. The Giants picked off just 14 passes last season, which was only impressive because they picked off 10 in 2003 and 11 in 2002. As a team they haven't had more than 15 in a season since 2000 – the year before Allen and Peterson arrived.

And Peterson hasn't helped. In fact, last year he only had two interceptions.

In 49 career NFL games he's had only five.

"When you get to calculating numbers and say, ‘Why don't I have this many picks? I used to always make interceptions, why don't I have so many now?' – when you look at all those things you can't play with them (on your mind)," he said. "You've just got to go out and do what you do, cover the receiver, don't worry about what people are talking about.

"But when that ball comes in the air, whenever it's in the air on that right side or wherever I'm at, believe me I'm going for it."

That's obviously good news for the Giants, but a strong effort is far from the only thing they're hoping to see from Peterson. When the Giants signed him to a five-year, $28.5 million contract last August, they weren't paying him to just try hard. They were envisioning him eventually becoming one of the top cornerbacks in the league.

Instead, what they got was an erratic year that didn't result in Peterson making many big plays. That's why, when defensive coordinator Tim Lewis was asked what he needed to see from Peterson this season, he said "Productivity, consistency and play-making ability. I want to see him finish. He's got the ability to do it all the time."

The other thing the Giants want to see out of Peterson this season is maturity – something they didn't see last December when he got into a strange and poorly timed battle with his head coach. After being briefly benched in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Peterson missed the team meetings the next day. That resulted in a heated exchange between he and Coughlin, and eventually caused Coughlin to remove him from the starting lineup for the next weekend's game.

All of that appears to be in the past for both Coughlin and Peterson – and it better be considering neither one of them is going anywhere any time soon.

The same can't be said for the rest of the Giants' secondary, which is in flux all around Peterson. The other half of "The Wills" – cornerback Will Allen – is entering the final year of his contract and could soon be replaced by Corey Webster, whom the Giants drafted in the second round out of LSU. Gibril Wilson appears to have permanently taken over for long-time starter Shaun Williams at strong safety. And while Brent Alexander is locked in at free safety, he's also 34 years old.

In other words, Peterson has become the one constant – the bridge between mini-eras. That's a lot of pressure for a still-young cornerback who was once the "other" corner the Giants took in the 2001 Draft. And he admits he can feel it – because if they can replace everyone around him, there's no reason they can't someday replace him, too.

"I always feel pressure," Peterson said. "I put pressure on myself. Competition is inevitable. And it's necessary, really, if you want to be the best you can be.

"So I'm glad I'm in a backfield with guys like Will Allen, Frank Walker and Curtis Deloatch, and I'm glad they added Corey Webster to the fray. So we'll see what happens in this camp, but I look to have a great camp."

And again, that mostly means picking off more passes – something Lewis and his assistants will undoubtedly emphasize in a series of training camp drills. Lewis – who said "finishing is just a habit" – insists turning near misses into actual turnovers is coach-able. And Peterson is confident that his lack of picks is something he can fix, too.

"The main thing is, when it comes to you, when you get a chance to get your hands on it, you've got to catch it," he said. "That's the first step."

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