With the offseason workout program now a thing of the past and the official start to training camp having arrived on July 21st (report date and physicals), it's time to look ahead to each positional battle and how they will ultimately shape the New York Giants' final 53-man roster. Today we examine the safeties.
Who's in: Quintin Demps, Nat Berhe, C.J. Barnett, Kyle Sebetic, Thomas Gordon
Who's out: Will Hill, Ryan Mundy
The Names: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Cooper Taylor, Quintin Demps, Nat Berhe, C.J. Barnett, Kyle Sebetic, Thomas Gordon
LOSS OF WILL HILL
On paper, the secondary of the New York Giants looks tremendously deep and talented. So just imagine what it would have looked like if Will Hill were still among the group of safeties. Unfortunately, the talented Florida product was unable to keep himself clean, and following his third league suspension in a three-year period, the Giants had no choice but to parts ways with him.
The loss of Hill will be a difficult one for the Giants to overcome, but given the circumstances, they had no choice. Still, it's impossible to deny what he brought to their team and the defense in particular, as his return coincided with the addition of linebacker Jon Beason a season ago, which was the very moment Perry Fewell's group turned things around. He ended the season as one of the highest rated safeties in the league via Pro Football Focus, and we even named to their Top 101 Players of 2013 list.
But, at the end of the day, captain Anrtel Rolle said it best: there's no place for rule violations on the Giants.
"Obviously I’m extremely disappointed," Rolle said. "That’s something that we don’t need around here. We don’t need to have bad pub, guys ending up on Twitter saying, ‘What’s going on, what’s up with the secondary,’ this, that and the other. It’s a bad reflection. It doesn’t look good.
"As professionals, you have to go out there and carry yourself in a certain manner and you understand the do’s and don’ts of this league, even within yourself. We’re all aware out here, we know right from wrong. It’s too easy to do right as opposed to keep doing wrong. … Every man has to be accountable for their own actions."
So now the Giants are task with replacing Hill — not only on the 53-man roster, but his high level of production against both the run and pass. Luckily for them, they have an Ace up their sleeve known as Stevie Brown, who is returning from an ACL tear and looking to replicate his career-best season of 2012.
"I don’t have any limits whenever I do anything," Brown added. "I feel great. I can run, I can jump, I can land on one leg, I can land on my left leg, push off equally off of both legs whenever they put the little tracking unit on me and measure when I was rehabbing and doing everything. All my stuff was balanced out. I feel great."
Having a healthy Brown back on the field is almost as good as another free agent addition for the Giants. And if he can return to his 2012 form, which saw him snag a team-leading eight interceptions (returned for 307 yards), that would be a tremendous boost for an already vastly improved secondary.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
As Stevie Brown returns and assumes his starting role, he will do so alongside Antrel Rolle, who is entering the final year of his contract with the New York Giants. And while he admits the contract situation has been on his mind, Rolle is determined to avoid it impacting his play on the field. Rather, as is usually the case, the second-year defensive captain is focused solely on winning following what he's described as a miserable and heartbreaking 2013 campaign.
All of that is obviously good news for the Giants, especially when factoring in Rolle's intense offseason workouts. He trained down in Miami as if he were a rookie and it's that sort of dedication that had his position coach recently singing his praises.
"With Antrel’s ability to continue to learn and grow he hasn’t, in my opinion, hasn’t scratched [the surface of] his ability as a safety yet. Last year as a glimpse of what Antrel could actually become. Just imagine if he had started that maybe eight years before at the position," safeties coach Dave Merritt said. "Again, the first couple of years you all know we played him at nickel, we played him at bison, we played him at corner, we played him at safety and now he’s able to just play strictly safety and it’s coming together for him well."
It will now become the job of the other safeties to follow in Rolle's footsteps. And, thus far, Cooper Taylor, who will be battling for the final spot as free agent addition Quintin Demps is all but assured the No. 3 role, has done exactly that.
"Cooper Taylor is another big kid. Cooper hopefully has the ability this year to break in and have the impact for us on special teams if he can stay healthy, which of course was the issue for him last year," Merritt told Inside Football. "The sky’s the limit for this young man. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, but again Cooper is going to get his chance to shine on the field and in the preseason games, which is going to be really big."
Taylor bulked up considerably this offseason and even saw a few first-teams reps following the release of Will Hill. And although he realizes there's a tremendous opportunity now ahead of him, he also knows it's going to be a battle as fifth-round pick Nat Berhe, C.J. Barnett, Kyle Sebetic and Thomas Gordon are also all hungry for a roster spot.
"You definitely see the opportunity there. But as the NFL is, it's a competition; it's between me and everyone else other than Antrel and Stevie," Taylor said earlier this offseason. "Everyone else is fighting for the rest of the jobs to get on this roster. Every day you've got to compete, show what you've got and make enough plays in order for the team to keep you here."
Late-round pick Nat Berhe and undrafted rookie free agent C.J. Barnett would appear to be the most serious competition for Taylor on paper, but until the pads are actually put on, we won't really know. Still, it would be considered a bit of a shock to see either Demps or Taylor lose out on their respective spots, as the final four safeties are more than likely battling for a chance to land on the practice squad.
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