New York Giants (@Giants) August 3, 2015
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants entered their offseason trying to solve the riddle of who would play safety for them during the 2015 season. After three days of training camp, safeties coach Dave Merritt said there is still "no clarity" in the competition.
Merritt has been with the Giants for 12 years, 10 as safeties coach. The heavy sigh he released when he was first asked if he had a better handle on which of his young charges would step up spoke volumes. He doesn't, and he realizes he has a lot of work in front of him.
"You look at these young guys and you're still trying to make sure you figure out who's gonna be able to be the leader, who's gonna be able to stand back and make the calls and make the adjustments that we need on game day," Merritt said. "We have rookies on the field. As far as clarity as to who's going to be the starters right now it's still wide open."
Throughout OTAs and minicamp rookie second-round pick Landon Collins and inexperienced third-year man Cooper Taylor took almost all of the first-team reps. On Sunday, second-year player Bennett Jackson, transitioning to safety after being drafted in the sixth round a year ago as a cornerback, took first-team reps in place of Taylor.
Merritt said that both Jackson and rookie fifth-round pick Mykkele Thompson would be receiving some first-team reps. Nat Berhe, a fifth-round pick a year ago, was thought to be a leading candidate for the starting job. After missing the entire offseason with a calf injury, however, Berhe is playing catch up. "It's just like him starting at the beginning," Merritt said.
What was it about Jackson's play that earned him reps with the first group?
"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."
What has Merritt seen from Thompson, a player many were surprised the Giants selected in the fifth round?
"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."
Merritt said that physical tools won't be the primary determining factor in who plays and who does not. He pointed to 2008 when the Giants drafted Kenny Phillips in the first round, only to have Phillips struggle to get snaps as undrafted James Butler and seventh-round pick Michael Johnson played the majority of the time.
"When you look at these linebackers and the corners they need to feel comfortable about who's going to be back making the calls," Merritt said. "Of course you have to look at the abilities but at the same time I can have a guy who's big, strong and fast but if he is making mental errors that's going to kill you vs. the guy who may be a little less athletic and who can go out there and make the calls and put himself in the right position."
Right now it sounds like Merritt isn't any closer to figuring out who those players are going to be.