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Curtis Riley looks to lock down starting role

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Whether by ability or default, or a fortuitous combination of both, Curtis Riley currently has the Giants' first-team free safety job.

Riley took the first-team reps today, when the Giants began three days of joint practices with the Detroit Lions. That in itself can be considered surprising, because Riley was sidelined with a hamstring injury for the preseason opener vs. Cleveland last Friday. Darian Thompson, who started that game and all 16 in the 2017 season, suffered his own hamstring strain against the Browns, and has not practiced since. The two other players who have taken first-team reps at the free safety this preseason – Andrew Adams and Michael Thomas – have currently yielded to Riley.

Now we'll see if he can hold the job for the 26 days until the regular-season opener.

"I just got to keep being consistent, doing everything I'm doing right now," Riley said. "Got to make sure I'm making all the right calls; I can't go out there having technical errors and stuff like that. Just got to be consistent, that's the main thing."

Riley is on track to start the Giants' preseason game Friday night vs. the Lions.

"I just have to come into it as a practice, same as practice," he said. "Everything I do in practice translates to the game and makes the game easier if I'm doing all the right things in practice."

Riley joined the Giants as a free agent in March after playing in 11 games for the Tennessee Titans in 2016-17, including seven last year.

The free safety competition has been one of the most scrutinized in camp. At one point, each of the four contenders lined up with the first team next to Landon Collins in consecutive practices.

"I've never seen something like it, never been a part of it, never heard of it," Riley said. "But it's good, though. It's a good thing to always have competition, that's what the NFL is about. We got to come every day and compete, because if I show up and I'm on a roller coaster of being good or bad and being down one day, that's not good, because that could lead to a big play. I got to make sure I'm consistent every day. We're all battling, they're making sure they are consistent every day, and we leave it up to the coaches and the upstairs (football decision-makers)."

View the best photos from the Giants' joint practice with the Lions.

Coach Pat Shurmur was non-committal when asked if Riley has started to separate himself from the pack.

"It's hard to say," Shurmur said. "I was on our offensive field all day today, so I've got to really go back and grind on what our defense did today. I got reports that he did well. That's the downside for the head coach (at a joint practice). You're only seeing half the team until that last long period, when you're doing the extended drives. But he's playing well, he was playing well prior to his hamstring deal, and now he's getting back out there."

It's up to Riley to convince the coaches to keep him there.

*Shurmur was pleased with the work the Giants accomplished in the joint practice.

"I thought it was a very competitive practice," he said. "We keep telling them, and Matt (Patricia, the Lions coach) and I are on the same page, if you compete and stay on your feet, then we can get a lot done. I felt like the competition was terrific, those extended drives were really good. There's a level of conditioning to that, I think that's important, and it was good. We're in training camp mode and our ones, our twos, and our threes got a lot of good work against a good opponent."

The teams will work out again tomorrow and Thursday before their preseason game on Friday in Ford Field.

"We'll work on different situational drills," Shurmur said, "but it will feel the same in terms of length of practice and what we're trying to get done."

*Odell Beckham, Jr, who did not play against the Browns last Friday, participated extensively in team and individual drills and caught a pass in traffic in the two-minute drill.

"He did great," Shurmur said. "You've watched him all summer here, competing at practice. If you create the same setting, it's just against a different team, then you're just out there practicing, and that's what he did."

*Eli Manning engineered what was becoming an impressive two-minute drive at the end of practice – he completed two passes to Beckham and one to Evan Engram – before a second throw to Engram was intercepted by Glover Quin.   

"He moved the ball down the field, and the safety had a good play on the ball," Shurmur said. "To that point, we're making good throws and the connection is good. There's a lot to be hopeful for."

*Regarding Manning, Shurmur said, "I thought he was throwing the ball well. He was getting completions."

 *Linebacker Connor Barwin has not practiced since playing against Cleveland. Because he was not with a team until he signed with the Giants on July 24, Barwin did not participate in an organized offseason program, though he didn't say if that's why he now needs time off.

"It might be, I don't know," he said. "I'm not going to overanalyze things. A little sore, and Shurm was good with me getting some rest. We thought it was best to make sure I'm as good as can be when the season starts." Barwin added, "I wouldn't say that (it's an injury)."

A 10-year veteran, Barwin has been helping the Giants' young pass rushers, notably third-round draft choice Lorenzo Carter. "The sky is the limit for him right now," Barwin said.

Barwin, a former Pro Bowler with 55.5 career sacks, mused about the coaches and players who helped him develop, and now pays it forward.

"I've been fortunate to learn from some really great coaches," Barwin said. "I've had Wade (Phillips, now the Rams' defensive coordinator, who was with Barwin in Houston) early in my career that taught me a lot. I had (Jets linebacker coach and Hall of Famer) Kevin Greene, who taught me a lot. And then Govs (linebackers coach Bill McGovern, who was with Barwin in Philadelphia) is here. Really, I'm just trying to share with what I've learned over my career. I think I had older guys when I was young teach me and help me. I just understood that there's a difference between hearing it from a coach, and hearing it from a player. I try to help where I can and show them what I've learned and what I've had success with. The young guys have been really receptive, which is good. It's a good sign."

Which players most influenced Barwin when he was young?

"(Former defensive tackle) Antonio Smith, who is probably one of the biggest," Barwin said. "I played with him in Houston. He was a defensive tackle. He was just a great, great teammate. Really one of the best I had, and really a great football player – unselfish, was great at rushing the passer. He was really great at – he understood the idea of how a whole defensive line works together. Me and him had a great couple of years playing together early on when I was in Houston."

*Defensive coordinator James Bettcher returned to practice after missing three days of work to attend the funeral of his mother, Karen Francis Bettcher, who passed away on Aug. 4. Bettcher joined his family in his hometown of Lakeville, Ind., and met the team at its hotel last night.

*In addition to Barwin and Thompson, running back Saquon Barkley (hamstring), cornerback Donte Deayon (hamstring), tight end Ryan O'Malley (ankle), linebacker Thurston Armbrister (hamstring), and wide receiver Travis Rudolph (quad) did not practice.

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