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Will Giants’ young cornerbacks be up the NFL challenge?

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Which players are stepping up? Let’s look at how things are going in training camp

NFL: New York Giants-Minicamp
DeAndre Baker
NorthJersey.com-USA TODAY NETWORK

The New York Giants have six young cornerbacks who have never played an NFL snap, and a seventh who has just 10 games of NFL experience. Rolling with such a young and unknown group in 2019 is a huge gamble, one that will go a long way toward determining whether or not the Giants’ defense shows improvement in 2019.

Speaking about his defense as a whole, GM Dave Gettleman said recently that its overwhelming amount of youth “excites me.”

“They’ll make youthful mistakes, but if they’re smart, they’ll only make them once. If they play with youthful exuberance, we’ll be fine,” Gettleman said.

As veteran safety Michael Thomas pointed out at the beginning of training camp, when players in the secondary make mistakes that can result in six points scored by the opposing offense.

Defensive backs coach Everett Withers is a veteran college and NFL coach who is in his first season with the Giants. I asked him Wednesday about the difficulties of bringing such a young group together.

“I don’t know if it’s difficult,” Withers said. “There are some challenges because you have so much youth, but I also believe it’s a clean slate, too, so what they learn, they learn together as a new group. They’re not bringing a whole bunch of things in from other places, so they learn together as a new group and I think that has some benefit to it.”

How are the individual players doing and what roles might they end up playing? Let’s take a look with the Giants now a week away from their preseason opener.

Cornerbacks

Janoris Jenkins

The only real veteran of the group, the 30-year-old has — by default — ended up as the mentor to his young teammates.

Withers said Jenkins seems to have “embraced” the role.

“I think he’s done really well. I think he’s done well since we got back from the offseason, and really taking the young guys and trying to help with mentoring them — not just in practice or in meetings, but off the field,” Withers said. “I think he has embraced it, and it’s been something that’s been good for him, not only him but for our players, too, and the young kids, too.”

Here is Jenkins’ take on his mentoring role:

“I just go out and ball. I let them pick my brain when they want to, and if I see them messing up, I pick them up a little bit. Other than that, they seem like they’re ready to me, and I can just lead by example.”

Mentoring aside, Jenkins did not have a great season in 2018. The Giants need him to play better, closer to his 2016 Pro Bowl form.

DeAndre Baker

The Giants traded up to select Baker 30th overall in the first round, making him the first cornerback taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. GM Dave Gettleman said they did so because he was “the best cover corner in the draft.”

Baker hasn’t disappointed. He is the clear starter opposite Jenkins. Baker, to this point, hasn’t made a bunch of splash plays. Maybe the best news is that he hasn’t been noticed much at all, meaning he isn’t giving up plays, either.

Grant Haley

Yours truly figured it was only a matter of time before Haley, an undrafted free agent who played 10 games for the Giants last season, lost his role as the Giants’ slot corner to fourth-round pick Julian Love. In the end, that might be the case. For now, though, Haley is holding his ground.

The Haley vs. Golden Tate matchup has been one of the fun ones to watch throughout camp. The second-year player has given up some plays, but he has been holding his own against the veteran receiver.

“He is very feisty. I think he’s a tough, competitive guy. I think you want that at all positions,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Because he’s a little shorter, they give him credit for being feisty, but that’s just part of his nature. I think that’s why he’s going to have success.

“You have to be able to compete. You have to be tough, have to be competitive. He’s all of those things. Because no matter how talented you are, if you don’t have those things, you have no chance.”

Shurmur compared him to Buster Skrine, who is now in his ninth year in the league. That’s not a bad thing.

Julian Love

“Spatial awareness.”

Both Shurmur and Withers used that phrase in regard to the fourth-round pick. What does that mean? Here’s more from Shurmur:

“The game sort of makes sense to him. That’s why he can play at top down.”

The Giants are working love not only at slot corner, a position he noted earlier in camp that he played maybe 15-20 percent of the time at Notre Dame, but at free safety. That is what Shurmur meant by playing “top down.”

“He’s a smart, instinctive player,” Shurmur said. “We’ll keep trying to give him what we can and see where his best spot will be.”

The way this is trending it wouldn’t be a surprise if Love is the Giants’ starting free safety, replacing the 35-year-old Antoine Bethea, in 2020.

Sam Beal

Beal has quite obviously fallen behind Baker on the depth chart. He missed a couple of days with groin and hamstring issues, but was back to practice on Wednesday. As of now, the 2018 Supplemental Draft selection is probably the team’s No. 3 cornerback. Beal has been OK when he’s been on the field. The Giants, though, aren’t being transparent. They believe Baker is better.

Corey Ballentine

This young man, a sixth-round pick out of Washburn, impressed everyone when he spoke to the media about the shooting that took the life of his friend, Dwane Simmons.

He has been impressing everyone on the field lately, too. He said the other day that “I feel like I’m finally starting to get somewhere” on the field. It shows. He has made splash plays, including Tuesday’s athletic end zone interception of Daniel Jones, in three straight practices.

There has been some thought that Ballentine, because of the time he missed and the number of corners the Giants have, could end up on the practice squad. If he keeps progressing, though, Ballentine is going to force the Giants to keep him on the 53.

“Corey is a very eager young man to learn technique and fundamentals. He’s worked his tail off this offseason. He texted me probably four or five times a week during the summer about questions on coverages, so that’s what you like about him,” Withers said. “He’s got some physical tools that God gave him, so now it’s just a matter of putting that all together. He’s done well the past few days of practice.”

Antonio Hamilton

Hamilton has 25 games of NFL experience. In 13 games with the Giants last season, though, he never got on the field as a defensive player. His role was entirely to play special teams, and he excelled as a punt gunner.

Hamilton has been trying to show that he can be more than that, and has gotten his hands on a few passes so far in camp.

In the end, there will probably be a place on the roster for Hamilton. What there probably won’t be are defensive snaps.

Other guys

Former AAF player Henre’ Toliver is watching his opportunity slip away as he has been sidelined by an ankle injury. Ronald Zamort is a competitive guy and has had a handful of pass breakups, but his size (5-foot-10, 174 pounds) can be an issue. He had no chance on Wednesday against 6-foot-4, 218-pound Alonzo Russell on an end zone jump ball.