EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The best thing the New York Giants have right now at the safety position is time. With nearly six weeks left until the Sept. 13 start of the regular season, Giants coaches don't need to know yet who their starting safeties will be. They're able to play around in practice with different combinations to allow them to assess the relative strengths of the candidates and to see which work best together. And that's exactly what they're doing.
"No, I'll tell you, you look at these young guys and you're still trying to make sure you figure out who's going to be the leader, who's going to be able to stand back there and make the calls and the adjustments we need on game day," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Monday. "We have rookies on the field. As far as clarity and who's going to be the starters, right now, it's still wide open."
In Saturday's practice, the first-team safeties were Cooper Taylor and rookie Landon Collins. Sunday it was Collins and converted cornerback Bennett Jackson. Monday it was Jackson and fifth-round rookie Mykkele Thompson. The Giants are off Tuesday, giving Merritt two days to spin the wheel and come up with a fresh combination for Wednesday.
Merritt spoke Monday of "chemistry" as an important part of what he's seeking from his safety combinations, and of finding guys the cornerbacks and linebackers can trust to know what's going on from play to play. At some point during this training camp, a combination may just start to click and take off from there. Once they start practicing against the Bengals next week in Cincinnati and getting into preseason games after that, the coaches will have a better means of evaluating everything.
"That's going to clear up a lot of things," Merritt said. "Not only just the first preseason game, but you go into the second and then hopefully by that time, or going into the third for sure, hopefully you have this thing solidified."
A little rundown on where the various candidates stand:
Collins, the rookie the Giants traded up to take at the top of the second round in May, seems the most likely to start. But the Giants want to know if he can handle things on the back end, both in terms of his coverage ability and his ability to handle the checks. Merritt said Collins "may be a little more pro-ready" than some of the other young guys.
Thompson, who was surprised to be drafted at all, is quick and smart in coverage but not the biggest guy (6-foot-2, 191 pounds) for an NFL safety. Merritt on Monday praised Thompson's intelligence and lauded him as a potential "quarterback" of the secondary, which is what the Giants are looking for.
Jackson was a sixth-round pick in 2014 as a cornerback out of Notre Dame and missed his rookie season due to injury. Coaches seem happy with his work making the transition to safety, and his natural coverage skills could be an asset if he continues to pick up the defense quickly and his instincts impress them.
Nat Berhe, the fifth-round pick from 2014, was probably the leading candidate at free safety heading into the offseason. But the calf injury that cost him OTAs and minicamp has clearly moved him to the back of the line in the eyes of the coaching staff. "Definitely behind the eight-ball right now," Merritt said. "He's moving slowly. Snail's pace."
Taylor, the fifth-round pick from 2013, worked as a starting safety throughout the spring. He's got the great size, but the injuries he's had since he came into the league have cost him some speed. My sense is that they could go with him but wouldn't mind seeing somebody take the job from him.