EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -If he was on the field playing cornerback, rookie Aaron Ross might have been able to explain why his eyes kept wandering left and right like he was looking for a pass to intercept.
Since Ross was standing in the New York Giants' locker room on Thursday after practice, there had to be another reason for the glances.
The answer came seconds later when field security manager Terry Mansfield walked up to Ross and handed him his helmet.
``It was hanging on top of the fence on the practice field,'' Mansfield said. ``We almost drove right by it.''
Ross shook his head and smirked.
``Those O-linemen are crazy, real crazy,'' he said.
While it's not unusual for a young player to be teased by veterans in the NFL, Ross wasn't getting the treatment because of his rookie status. It was just another sign that the first-round draft pick from Texas is more than just fitting in. He's one of the guys now, a starter.
``Coming in I didn't expect to be a starter, I expected to learn and then try to work my way in there,'' said Ross, who will make his first Monday night appearance when the Giants (3-2) face the Falcons (1-4) in Atlanta. ``The opportunity came and I am happy it did. To be part of the ones is a dream come true.''
Ross had a fairy tale finish in the Giants' 35-24 win over the Jets on Sunday, a game that had a miserable start.
Ross was benched for the first half for violating an undisclosed team rule that he hasn't talked about. He returned in the second half and intercepted his first two NFL passes. The first stopped a Jets drive at the goal line and set up the go-ahead touchdown. The second was a game-clinching 43-yard return for a score.
``It's a tough transition from college to the NFL,'' guard Rich Seubert said, adding he knew nothing of the helmet caper. ``Some guys can adapt and he's proved he can do it. He had two picks and a touchdown last week. Nothing gets the offense up more than that.''
Since Ross moved into the starting lineup in the second half against Washington in Week 3, the defense has been outstanding. After giving up 97 points in the first 2 1/2 games, the unit has surrendered 13 points in the last 10 quarters. The Jets got 14 of their points on a fumble return and a kickoff return.
``It's not by chance that he steps into the lineup and we play a little bit better,'' defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. ``The coverage has been a lot better.''
Ross seems to be the perfect fit for coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's pressure scheme. He's a cover corner who is big enough to slow down receivers and allow the line to get to the quarterback.
Ross also is a student of the game. During practice, he and veteran Sam Madison spent time discussing the press technique.
Madison told him to stay square to the receiver, allowing him to use to his hands more.
``He's a fast learner,'' veteran cornerback R.W. McQuarters said. ``He has good feet and he catches the ball well, too. He brings a lot to the table, not only as a football player. He's a good dude, real laid back.''
Receiver Plaxico Burress said that's not totally true.
``He's not afraid,'' Burress said. ``I have played against some guys who play defense that don't like to hit, especially corners. He comes up the field and they put him in position to where he can physically tackle guys.''
Ross is impressed with the Falcons' receivers.
``They are big and physical,'' Ross said. ``You have to get your hands on them before they start. That's our goal this week. If they get down the field, they can go up and get the ball.''
Ross showed that, too, last week.
``If I try to dwell on last week, it will eat me up this week,'' he said. ``I am happy last week happened, but now I'd like to do the same thing this week.''
Provided he has his helmet for the game.

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