New York Giants fans continue to pine for Reggie Nelson, wondering why the Giants haven't made an obvious effort to sign the Cincinnati Bengals veteran free-agent safety. There have been no published reports recently on interest by the Giants in the 32-year-old Nelson, but you never know. After all, no one knew the Philadelphia Eagles were interested in Rueben Randle until the Eagles had signed Randle.
Still, the Giants appear to be forging ahead with the same plan they had at safety a year ago. That plan? Give the young, untested, but promising safeties already on their roster a chance to compete for the job and let the best man win. That plan was, of course, wrecked by injuries to all of the young safeties. The Giants, though, seem ready to try again.
"We have some young guys that we have to get healthy. We have to get out there and give ‘em an opportunity to compete and let that shake out," first-year head coach Ben McAdoo said this week at the NFL owners meetings. "We're still looking through some things from a free agency perspective. Just because you don't make a splash early doesn't mean you can't find a piece later on, and in the draft as well. There's some nice players in the draft.
"Berhe's definitely one of them, Jackson's one of them, there's a lot of guys that can factor in there. Thompson. We're gonna get ‘em healthy and let ‘em compete for it."
Let's take a look at each of the young safeties McAdoo mentioned.
A fifth-round pick (152nd overall) out of San Diego State in 2014, the personable Berhe is the only one of the three safeties who has actually played a snap in an NFL regular-season game. That isn't saying much, though, since Berhe only played 31 defensive snaps in 2014.
Berhe, who will be 25 this season, was probably the favorite to win a starting job opposite Landon Collins a year ago, but he never got a chance as a calf injury that eventually required surgery derailed his season before it ever really started.
What the Giants really need in a safety is a center field type, an Earl Thomas to Collins' Kam Chancellor. Berhe shows the personality to quarterback the secondary. The question is whether or not he has the speed and range to be the right guy to pair with Collins.
A sixth-round pick (187th overall) in 2014, Jackson is a converted cornerback who has had successive seasons wrecked by knee injuries. He was on the Giants' practice squad as a rookie cornerback before having his season ended by micro fracture surgery. He was impressive during training camp and the preseason last year after being moved to safety, and appeared to have won a startng job until a torn ACL in a preseason game ended his year.
The 6-foot, 192-pound Jackson showed range and play-making skills that would have likely been a nice complement to Collins. When Jackson began to see first-team reps during training camp last season, safeties coach Dave Merritt, who is still part of the coaching staff, was effusive in his praise of Jackson.
"Simple. See ball, get ball. When that kid sees the ball, he goes and gets the ball," Merritt said. "He's making plays, he's making production and production as Spags has said over and over production is at the ball.
"This kid has been to get his hands on a couple of balls and passes already here by far more than any other safety I've had in camp so far."
Merritt said that Jackson's ability to drop down and cover receivers from the slot gives him an advantage.
"This kid can play corner," Merritt said. "You have to be ready for three safeties to be on the field and this kid who can go down and cover a slot receiver is gonna be huge for us if he's one of the guys we decide is gonna be in there with the first group."
The question for Jackson is, obviously, health. He has had back-to-back seasons wrecked by knee injuries. Can he hold up? How much of that speed and range have been taken away by the knee injuries? Can he pick up where he left off a year ago, or did his best chance already slip away?
Eyebrows were raised when the Giants drafted Thompson in the fifth round (144th overall) out of Texas a year ago. Most analysts had Thompson pegged as a post-draft priority free agent, and even he admitted that the Giants were the only team to express real interest in him prior to the draft.
Thompson, 6-foot, 193 pounds, played both corner and safety for the Longhorns and the Giants saw him as a player with enough speed (4.47 40-yard dash at the Texas Pro Day) to play center field as a safety and with the ability to drop down and cover receivers from the slot when necessary.
Thompson also impressed Merritt before having his season go down the drain when he tore an Achilles tendon covering a punt during a preseason game.
"Smart kid," Merritt said. "He's able to take it from the classroom it seems so far and even with the checks that we have on the back end. With him being able to think and maybe being a quarterback out on the field. That's what I see."
Here is our breakdown of Thompson after the Giants selected him. We will have to see if the Achilles injury robs Thompson of any of the athletic ability the Giants were attracted to.
Whether on purpose or an unintentional omission, McAdoo never mentioned Cooper Taylor. I know there are still Taylor fans out there, and I know he played well enough in some action near the end of the season before suffering a concussion, but it seems unlikely that the Giants see Taylor as the answer. He had an opportunity last season, and the Giants preferred to play Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl. They have the same defensive coordinator and safeties coach this year. Taylor, entering his fourth year, will be 26 this season and really isn't a young player any longer by NFL standards. My instinct is that his best chance has already passed him by.
I have written before that the plan at safety a year ago wasn't the problem. The injuries that destroyed the plan before it had a chance to be implemented were the problem. Considering the question marks surrounding the three young players, the Giants would be smart to find a veteran safety to at least compete for the job.
Which brings us back to Nelson, a nine-year veteran who spent the last six years in Cincinnati. Why haven't there been reports of the Giants expressing more interest in him? Age has to have something to do with it as McAdoo was clear earlier this week that he is looking for younger free agents. I'm told that Nelson, even though he turns 33 in September, has been asking interested teams for a contract of at least three years in duration. He almost certainly isn't getting that from the Giants.
A coiple of other names to watch of the free-agent market might be Walter Thurmond, if he chooses not to retire, and Rashad Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals.
Right now, though, it looks like you might as well prepae to watch the young guys battle for the job this summer.