EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Logan Ryan has started 103 regular-season and postseason games in an NFL career that began in 2013. Ninety-three of those starts were at cornerback, five as a less-defined defensive back and the remainder at free safety.
All five of the latter starts were this season, his first with the Giants. He made his initial career start at safety on Sept. 27 against San Francisco and he's started each of the last four games at the back of the defense with Jabrill Peppers.
Ryan began being a fulltime safety after Julian Love's playing time was reduced and Adrian Colbert injured his shoulder. He might be new to the position, but that it doesn't mean he's not good, or confident in his abilities.
"I honestly believe with my work ethic and my toughness and my willingness to be great, I think I can be the best safety in football," Ryan said. "I'm working on it. I do think I have a ways to go."
Has the transition been better than he anticipated?
"It goes as I put the work in," Ryan said. "I think I work extremely hard. I've called myself a safety, but I've never really done it to this extent. It is my first year at the position full time, my first year back there in the post. It's my first year doing the same things I do. I didn't have the reps in training camp, I didn't have the reps in OTA's. I was working behind the scenes."
He' s getting help from teammates present and past, most notably Peppers.
"I'm learning from the safeties here," Ryan said. "I'm learning from safeties around the league. Two of my best friends are Kevin Byard and Devin McCourty (former teammates in Tennessee and New England, respectively) who are all-pro at the position before. I surround myself (with players) who are really good at it and I watch from everybody. I'm developing my own style on how to do it. I think ultimately my toughness, my work ethic and being fundamentally sound and my ability to go get the ball, I think is what could make me the best safety in football. I'm going to try my best to do everything I can to be the best safety for the Giants. I'm excited the more reps I get. Every single game I am getting more comfortable at the position."
That's obvious. Ryan is second on the team to Blake Martinez with 52 tackles (40 solo) and to James Bradberry with seven passes defensed. Ryan had a sack in the Giants' first victory against Washington and last Sunday clinched the team's second triumph of the season by intercepting a pass from Alex Smith – roughly one minute after Peppers picked off the veteran quarterback.
Ryan and Peppers (third on the team with 43 tackles, despite missing one game) form a productive and dependable back line of the Giants' defense.
"I think both guys really have different skillsets but similar at the same time, if that makes any sense," coach Joe Judge said. "Their ability to really play different spots gives Pat (Graham, the defensive coordinator) a lot of flexibility and freedom in how he calls the defense but then also how he designs it and adjusts it within a game. I think that's probably one of the biggest strengths right now for us defensively is between Pep and Logan, we can make a lot of adjustments within the game because both guys are highly intelligent, both guys really see it conceptually and know the game.
"Within a game, if they're getting a tendency on us, we can flip them in terms of responsibility or we can adjust something based on what they're doing game plan wise that really helps us out. Pep has really improved this season in terms of playing a deep part of the field. He's really been an asset back there. He's always been up playing the box. Logan's a guy that's had a lot of flexibility, whether it's playing that nickel position right there in the slot, whether it's playing the free safety role or that strong safety role down in the box. He's a good tackler, he's a savvy player, he has good vision inside. Both of those guys give us a lot of flexibility."
When Ryan joined the team on Sept. 4, it was thought he would play either outside or in the slot. But rookie Darnay Holmes has capably manned the nickel corner position. And while the Giants are seeking improved production at the corner opposite Bradberry, Ryan has become too good and too valuable to move him from safety. He brings skill, savvy and leadership to the position.
"If I'm a young DB in this league, you're dealing with Logan - who has been in this league and has a lot of experience and been successful - it's a wealth of knowledge you can get from him," Graham said. "You see that and that helps, that definitely helps. In terms of being on the field, the more interchangeable they are, the more you can disguise it. For me, as they're growing with one another and understanding, okay, I can do your job, you can do my job. Now you start to play that game within the game, that's always a good thing. You don't want to put someone is harm's way because what I can do and what you can do is different. If I'm the post safety, then I'm going to play the post safety spot. I like the fact that they will work with one another and be as interchangeable as possible as we keep growing this thing as we work through the season."
Ryan was a free agent in the offseason and didn't know when or where he would play when he began preparing for his move to safety. That begs the question … why?
"Because I was tired of being labeled as a slot corner," he said. "I think in Tennessee we had three good corners in Malcolm Butler, Adoree Jackson and myself, and I played 100 percent of the snaps. I played on the perimeter, I played outside, I played inside. I matchup on tight ends, I matchup up on running backs. I matched up on whoever (coordinator) Dean Pees told me to match up. I was a versatile piece for our defense and a key part of it, similar to here. Then I got labeled as a slot corner. I just didn't think the label is really fair to modern football. I don't think we label Keenan Allen as a slot receiver. He's getting paid as a number one receiver. I don't think we label Michael Thomas, who runs 90 percent of his routes out of the slot, as a slot receiver. Let's pay him five million bucks, no, I think he's getting 20 million dollars because he is one of the best receivers in football. DeAndre Hopkins lines up in the slot a lot more. Therefore, some of your better defenders have to go in there more.
"James Bradberry has to go line up in the slot and match some of these guys a little bit more. He's not a slot corner by anybody's means. I just think the future of football is having more versatile players out there. I feel like my future was to go to the safety position because I am able to match up these Evan Engram's, these versatile tight ends, these really good running backs out of the backfield. I'm able to blitz, which is something I worked on. I'm able to ultimately play against the quarterback. I think my mind and my communication are my two biggest strengths. I think that bodes well for a safety. I think my best opportunity to be the best in the league is at safety. I had a lot of fun playing perimeter corner, won Super Bowls at it. I had a lot of fun playing in the slot predominately. Now I play all over, you can call me what you want to call me. I just want to be a really good defender."
That mission is accomplished.
*Every player on the roster participated in practice Thursday. The three players who did not take part in the walk-through yesterday practiced fully: tight end Kaden Smith (concussion) and defensive lineman Leonard Williams and Ryan (whose absences were not injury-related).
Three players were limited: running back Devonta Freeman (ankle) and wide receivers Sterling Shepard (toe/hip) and Golden Tate (knee).