The New York Giants are no strangers to finding a fresh core of players to take over in the backend of their defense. Just ask the Giants personnel from 2008.
Kenny Phillips entered training camp as a highly touted rookie who was drafted from the University of Miami in the first-round. It was clear that Phillips' athletic ability was above the rest of the safeties competing for a spot on the team, but other factors led to the first-year player only starting in three games that year.
"I still recall the days of Kenny Phillips, when he was a first-round draft pick," secondary and safeties coach David Merritt said. "Kenny Phillips had to come in here and had to fight and try to get on the field. As we all that were here understand, you had Michael Johnson and James Butler, a free agent and a seventh-round pick, that started that entire season."
History is repeating itself. With players such as Landon Collins and Cooper Taylor being determined as the early favorites for their select safety positions, other players still have an opportunity to work their way into a starting role.
Bennett Jackson, a second-year cornerback out of Notre Dame, has already caught the attention of the coaching staff. Jackson was selected in the sixth-round as a cornerback in 2014, but injuries to his ankle and knee forced him to spend the season on the practice squad’s injured reserve list.
This year Jackson has a new focus after being switched to safety. The former South Bend star has mastered the craft of being a ball hawk. His capability of tracking down a quarterback's pass has put him in the safety fold. If Jackson plays his cards right, he may be able to start during week one against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night in front of a national audience.
"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."
Of course, nothing will be handed to Jackson and the rest of the secondary, they will have to work for it. The Giants are only in week one of a long training camp, the team hasn't even dressed in full pads. Antrel Rolle, the Giants starter and vocal leader, signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason. Potential suitors to replace Rolle and Stevie Brown will surface once the young players are put into real game situations. Preseason will allow the coaching staff to finally find their starters.
"When you look at the practices, it’s great going against our guys every day, but once you go into the preseason games, you’re able to play against opponents, and you’re able to go against other offenses that are playing against our first defense-- you’ll be able to roll some guys in and out," Merritt said. "Then, hopefully it will clear up right away."