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Giants are hoping Landon Collins is a quick study

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Landon Collins held his thumb and index finger about three inches apart.

"That's how thick my playbook was in college," the New York Giants rookie and former Alabama safety said Thursday at Giants training camp.

So the question, obviously, was how the Giants' current defensive playbook compares. Collins brought his thumb and finger much closer to each other, now about one inch apart.

"At Alabama, playing safety, I had 170, 180 plays on my shoulder to remember," Collins said. "So getting up to speed here, it's all about learning the different terminology. I don't think it's going to take a long time or anything like that."

The Giants are hoping he's right, because at safety right now they have basically nothing in terms of NFL experience. Collins is a rookie and looks like the surest bet to start. The other candidates for starting safety spots are 2013 fifth-round pick Cooper Taylor, who missed all of 2014 with a foot injury; 2014 fifth-rounder Nat Berhe, who missed all of this year's minicamp with a calf injury; 2014 sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson, who's converting from cornerback; 2015 fifth-rounder Mykkele Thompson; and former Ravens safety Jeromy Miles, who was still a free agent three weeks ago.

"There's no way to know what's going to happen," Collins said. "One day you could be on the first team, the next day you could be on the second or third team. It's a real competition."

But the Giants traded up to the top of the second round to draft Collins because they viewed him as a first-round talent who could help them right away at a position of need. One of the reasons they believed that is because he played three years in the Southeastern Conference for Nick Saban at Alabama -- basically the highest competitive level of college football there is right now.

"It definitely shows that his coaches have had a huge impact on him, just by how he carries himself around the facility, the type of respect that he gives and shows, and just his work ethic on the field," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "The SEC is known as, or was known, probably, as the super-conference. So they go against all the best talent week in and week out. And here in the NFL, you go against the best in the world every week. So I would say Landon's mindset is ready for that competition and that pressure."

The question about Collins is which role he can occupy in the secondary. At this point, the Giants' coaches aren't designating "free" and "strong" safety in the traditional sense, because they don't believe any of the candidates has established himself as the quarterback-of-the-defense type they're looking for in a free safety. So they want everyone to get as much practice as they can and see whether someone emerges there. The way Collins is built (listed at 6-foot, 225 pounds) is similar to a typical strong safety. But he could end up as the best candidate to play free safety for non-physical reasons. That's part of the reason the Giants asked him to lose weight this summer (he weighed 228 in minicamp). They want him to be able to move around in coverage, especially if he's playing center field.

So for Collins, the transition might end up being more physical than mental/intellectual. He said his focus the past few months has been on showing up in shape, and he believes he has. Now it's about showing the Giants he's capable of handling a lot of responsibility right away.