Following a dismal 2014 campaign the New York Giants decided to blow up and rebuild the safety position. Gone are established vets Quentin Demps, Stevie Brown, and Antrel Rolle.
In 2015 the youth movement is in full swing. Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe are all that remain of the 2014 safeties. New to the position are
- Bennett Jackson, a converted cornerback
- Landon Collins, the rookie out of Alabama
- Mykkele Thompson, another rookie, this time from Texas
- Justin Currie undrafted free agent from Western Michigan Justin Halley, an undrafted free agent from Florida International
- Jeromy Miles, a veteran free agent signed from the Baltimore Ravens
With the safety position being completely rebuilt, and it still being early in camp, the Giants are still searching for clarity in their safety position.
"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 and make the calls and make the adjustments that we need on game day," safeties coach Dave Merritt said. "When you pull your eyes back and you look at it from a depth perspective, we have rookies on the field. I mean, the one guy that we have that is a veteran is Jeromy Miles, and Jeromy just came to us from Baltimore. As far as clarity and who's going to be the starters right now — right now, it's still wide open.
"Of course you have to look at their abilities, but at the same time, I can have a guy who's out there [that is] big, strong, and fast, but if he's making mental errors, that's going to kill you. Versus 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. My greatest example is the one that I just gave. You're talking Kenny Phillips, by far, was a better athlete than James Butler and Michael Johnson. But, when it came to chemistry, who was going to be out there on the field meshing this defense and the guys feel confidence in, it really goes back to two guys working together and therefore being on the same stream, being on the same accord. That's my greatest example that I draw on as a coach from my own experience. "
So not only are the Giants looking to find their best players at safety, but also the safeties that play the best together, and with the rest of the defense.
As of now, the depth chart appears to be:
|First Team||Second Team||Third Team||Fourth Team|
|Landon Collins||Jeromy Miles||Cooper Taylor||Nat Berhe (injured)|
|Bennett Jackson||Mykkele Thompson||Justin Currie||Justin Halley|
The safety depth chart is still very fluid. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is still installing his defense, so the coaching staff is still in the process of finding which of these young, inexperienced players can best communicate and execute the scheme.
Perhaps the most surprising development to date is Bennett Jackson seeing the majority of his reps with the first team, while Cooper Taylor has slipped down to the third team. Jackson is a converted cornerback coming off microfracture surgery, but he has shown tremendous field vision and a "see ball, get ball" knack for making plays that has earned the praise of the coaches.
"Bennett, this kid, when he sees the ball -- it's simple: see ball, get ball. When that kid sees the ball, he goes and gets the ball. This kid's ability to put his toe in the ground and go and burst out of his break, you guys see it out here, he's able to make plays," Merritt said. "He's making production and production, as Spags has said over and over, production is at the ball. This kid is able 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. When you see this kid doing those things, I've told them all, I've said "Look, the relentless meter and what we preach as far as running to the ball, guys -- you have to handle that. I can sit up here and I can try to come out here in a skirt and be your cheerleader and pump you up "let's run to the ball," but eventually that has to come from inside of you. Bennett Jackson is one of those guys who's a self-starter and he's able to go out there and perform and do the things that we're asking him to do. On top of that, he's able to relentlessly run to the ball, which is a plus."
It might be early to read much into Taylor sliding down the depth chart, though. The camp battle at the safety position is truly wide open, and the coaching staff seems to be making an effort to give all their available safeties a chance to run with the other defensive starters.
Miles, the lone veteran, offers the most NFL experience. He still doesn't have much, but when he has seen the field, he has played well. Per Pro Football Focus, Miles allowed only 0.14 yards per coverage snap, and in 224 coverage snaps he has only allowed two receptions for more than four yards, while notching an interception.
The coaches have also praised fifth round rookie Mykkele Thompson, with Merritt saying "Smart kid. Mykkele is one of those kids that is able to take it from the classroom and it appears, so far, take it to the field. Even with the checks that we have on the backend. With him being able to think and being able to maybe be a quarterback on the field—that's what I see from him. He's a smart kid."
If there is any loser at the moment, it is likely Nat Berhe. The second-year safety out of San Diego State University has been dealing with an injured calf throughout the offseason program, which an MRI revealed to be a torn muscle. Berhe hasn't been able to participate in the camp battle, and has missed out on valuable reps as they install the new scheme.
The safety position is one camp battle that we are going to keep a close eye on. With a week of joint practices with the Cincinnati Bengals culminating in the first preseason game, the hope of the coaches is that the picture will quickly come into focus.