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Safety corps has something to prove

Posted May 19, 2016

Bennett Jackson discusses the motivations for young players in the safety unit:


When David Merritt scans the faces in his safeties room, there’s one grizzled veteran looking back at him.

That player is 22-year-old Landon Collins.

After one season, the 2015 second-round draft choice already has more experience starting in the NFL than everyone in there combined. It’s a fact not lost on the group, nor is it shied away from as the Giants ready for the start of organized team activities on Monday.

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“Coach Merritt is definitely on all of us,” Bennett Jackson said of his position coach. “But I feel like as a safety group being the young guys, there’s always that kind of doubt aspect from people on the outside of the organization. But we push ourselves. Looking at it from my perspective is everybody’s got to start somewhere. Every great player starts somewhere, and as long as we stick together and we continue to push ourselves, coaches know and people will realize eventually.”

In 2015, the Giants went into OTAs looking for a young safety to step up and play opposite Collins, the player the team had just traded up to draft with the first pick of the second round. Earlier that offseason, the Giants parted ways with defensive co-captain Antrel Rolle, who signed with the Bears as a free agent.

Jackson, drafted as a cornerback in 2014, seized an opportunity to make the move to safety and became a contender. Meanwhile, Nat Berhe, who made a name for himself on special teams the year before, eyed a larger role, and Mykkele Thompson, a fifth-round pick in 2015, also looked to become a factor.

But then the injury bug stung all three.

They missed the entire season as Collins became the first Giants rookie to start an entire 16-game slate at safety. To fill the hole, the team signed veterans Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl in the weeks leading up to the season opener. They combined to start all 16 games next to Collins while Cooper Taylor also appeared in six games.

However, with Meriweather and Dahl no longer on the 2016 roster, the Giants hit the reset button on the plan and added another piece in third-round draft pick Darian Thompson, the Mountain West’s all-time interceptions leader.

Eight months removed from his torn ACL, Jackson has worked to get back in the mix and said he is moving around well on the field.

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“It’s just comforting knowing that the rehab and everything you’ve done is paying off,” Jackson said. “So I’m happy with it. I’m flying around. I’m stiff here and there just kind of warming up, but it’s definitely feeling really good.”

Added Jackson: “Come training camp, I think I’ll definitely be full-go, ready to roll. I think I’ll definitely be able to really push myself throughout OTAs as well.”

Jackson, who was held out of drills last month during voluntary minicamp, also feels more comfortable in his second year at safety. Last spring, he was still “trying to figure out where to line up.”

But now, his versatility ranging from cornerback to nickel to safety will be an asset.

“I’m working on gaining a little more weight to get down there in the box, just have that physical presence,” Jackson said. “But I never shy away from contact, so I like that part of it. Just having that corner experience, I love going down and playing nickel. I think it definitely helps with my cover skills. I like thinking of myself as a cover safety. Playing free safety takes me back to almost my receiver days back in the day. So I look at myself as a versatile safety for sure.”