Safety Darian Thompson has formed a bond with his Pro Bowl teammate Landon Collins:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Darian Thompson was seemingly on his way to an outstanding rookie season when it was derailed after just two games because of a foot injury. But Landon Collins was determined to ensure his fellow safety stayed in the game, even if he wasn't in uniform. And Thompson and the Giants are reaping the dividends.
Collins, the 2016 All-Pro who started every game in his first two seasons with the Giants, bonded with Thompson regularly away from the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. The young players often met for dinner, sometimes as a duo, and sometimes with the other safeties.
"At least once a week," Collins said. "Either I'd cook or - he can't cook, so I'd cook and he'd come over. We always had a little meeting. Sometimes we would talk about football, but most of the time it would be just living life, the New York life and maintaining the grind."
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Thompson, who joined the starting lineup soon after arriving as a third round draft choice last year, wondered if he'd regain that status after being forced from the lineup and subsequently undergoing surgery. Collins counseled him to keep the faith.
"Him being out, it kind of brought him down," Collins said. "But I told him, 'You're here, bro. It is a blessing. They are not talking about letting you go or anything like that. They are making sure you are happy, and they know the potential inside of you. Don't even think about them letting you go; they are not thinking about it.'"
"It was extremely helpful," Thompson said. "Not only for football stuff, but just getting to know the guys. I feel like the more of the personal connection that you have, the easier your job on the field is, and that is why we took that approach.
"It was difficult in the beginning, but once I turned a negative into a positive and figured out how I can use that opportunity to get better, things started to turn around."
But what about Collins' knock on his culinary skills?
"I cook some, not a whole lot," Thompson said. "But don't let him tell you he's Chef Landon, because he's not."
The advice he received from Collins was spot on. Thompson is again lining up next to Collins in the back of the starting defense. Barring another setback, the Giants will have one of the NFL's best young safety tandems.
"Oh man, it's great," Collins said of playing again with Thompson. "He's smart, we are on the same page and the chemistry is always there, so it's a great feeling."
Thompson did not play after a Week 2 victory against New Orleans. He was inactive for six games before being placed on injured reserve. But he spent long hours at the Giants' headquarters, rehabbing his foot, and attending meetings. He did everything but practice. That enabled him to return to the field without playing catchup mentally.
"Coming into this training camp, I felt more confident with the material," Thompson. "I am quicker with checks and calls and things like that stuff. I'm continuing to learn the playbook, continuing to learn my teammates, and just get in there and do the things like that to make me a better player."
The Giants' safety corps includes one of the NFL's best in Collins, and several candidates that had issues last season. After Thompson went down, Andrew Adams started 13 games as a rookie free agent, but played little in the Giants' NFC Wild Card Game loss in Green Bay. Nat Berhe missed the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, and played in only seven last year, starting two, primarily because of a concussion. Mykkele Thompson missed his 2015 rookie season after tearing his Achilles' tendon in the preseason opener, and played in only one game last year before hurting his knee.
Although Darian Thompson is currently getting the first-team reps, all four have designs on being Collins most-frequent partner.
"Man, it's a competition," Berhe said. "We're all teammates here. We're all buddies. Just take it day by day."
Asked about his relative inactivity the previous two seasons, Berhe said, "Well, frustration, for sure. I had a long offseason. Did a lot of soul-searching and I'm cool. It's like the stock market. You can't stay down for too long. Eventually, you know, you'll come up. So, I'm not worried."
Nor is Adams.
"In my head, I am still the undrafted rookie that is trying to prove something to the other 31 teams and to the New York Giants," he said. "This is an elite secondary group any way you look at it. We're just trying to build chemistry, and whatever fits the defense the best is what we are going to go with. We consider ourselves as elite, and that is what we are trying to be every day."
Mykkele Thompson made just a cameo appearance in his first two seasons, and is excited to be back.
"It feels great," he said. "It's more surreal now. I do not take anything for granted. Just being out here every day with these guys and being able to touch the field, you can't take it for granted. I have been in the situation where it has been taken from me, so I am just trying to make the most out of the opportunity that I have."
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