EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Safety was the biggest remaining question mark on the New York Giants' roster after free agency this year. And after a full round of OTAs, it appears it still is.
As the Giants spend practice days mixing and matching with rookies Landon Collins and Mykkele Thompson, a recuperating Cooper Taylor and converted second-year cornerback Bennett Jackson -- while second-year safety Nat Berhe sits out with a calf injury -- the search for a starting free safety continues to vex the coaching staff.
"The chemistry is what I'm really looking for right now," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday. "You can't have two cooks in the kitchen. I've had that with my wife and her mom. You can't have both of them in the kitchen. Somebody has to go sit down. So you need to have one leader back there, and that's what I'm still looking for. It's elusive. I'm searching for it. If it's Landon, great. If it's Cooper, great. If it's Nat, great. If it's Mykkele, great. But I need to have a leader come up and emerge out of this minicamp and emerge out of training camp."
Merritt's job has changed completely from a year ago, when his safety group featured veterans Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps. This year, with the youth and inexperience the Giants have at the position, he's having to do a lot more teaching. And he's not hesitant to tell you honestly how it's going.
"Very slow," Merritt said. "Very slow leadership, as far as making calls, controlling the defense. If I give you a call and I tell you, 'These are the checks and this is what I need you to do. If you see this formation, this is what you check to,' the guys right now that I have are very slow at making those checks."
There is, of course, a long way to go before the season starts. Training camp is a month and a half away. There are three minicamp practice days this week. And the Giants will of course have four preseason games to help them evaluate their safeties. But at this point, the inventory is what it is.
"There's youth and there's inexperience there," Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "And it doesn't matter what system you're in, in my opinion. Those two particular guys are really important. Everybody else relies on them. And so the quicker we can get to the other nine trusting them, the better off we'll be. I'm not sure that we're there yet. I think it's going to be a work in progress. But we'll get there and guys can do it. That's why I wish we had another 10 OTAs."
Spagnuolo said he appreciated the other players on the defense having patience with the young safeties during practice rather than rushing to make the calls for them. And Merritt said he believes it will ultimately help the youngsters to have practiced against the high tempo the Giants' offense shows in practice. Learning the calls against a more methodical offense might make it easier, but learning at this speed will better prepare them for the Philadelphias of the world.
In the meantime, though, there's a lot of work still to be done before the Giants have any answers at safety.
"Right now, it's a challenge," Spagnuolo said. "It's a challenge to them. It's a challenge for our patience and our trust in them. But every day, it gets better. Every day, there's a trust gained there from the linebackers to the corners back to the safeties. But we've got a long ways to go, in my opinion."