EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -** Bennett Jackson was the only member of the Giants' 2014 draft class who did not contribute to the team as a rookie last season.
He expects to change that in a big way this year.
Jackson was selected on the seventh round from Notre Dame as a cornerback. But he suffered ankle and knee injuries in training camp, the latter which required surgery to repair. While top draft choice Odell Beckham Jr. was voted the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Weston Richburg, Jay Bromley, Andre Williams, Nate Berhe and Devon Kennard all helped the team, Jackson spent season on practice squad injured reserve.
He has re-emerged healthy, stronger and playing a new position. Jackson was moved to safety in the spring and is one of several players competing for a starting job. David Merritt, the Giants' secondary/safeties coach, said Jackson and rookie Mykkele Thompson would line up with the starters in today's training camp practice.
"In the OTAs (spring practices), I was learning the position," Jackson said. "Now, I feel like I've been getting the defense and I can focus on fundamentals of the position and work more on that - like alignment and technique. I have a better understanding of the defense in general. That helps me just play more confident and play a little faster."
The coaches have noticed, though if Jackson is to earn serious playing time, he will do so when the team puts on full pads and then plays preseason games.
"Seems to be doing okay," coach Tom Coughlin said. "There's a guy coming off an injury, too, but nobody talks about him much. He's been out there and done a pretty good job."
"Bennett, this kid, it's simple: see ball, get ball," Merritt said. "When that kid sees the ball he goes and gets the ball. This kid's ability to put his toe in the ground and go and burst out of his break … he's able to make plays. He's making production, and production, as Spags (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) has said over and over, production is at the ball. This kid is able to get his hands on a couple of balls and passes already here. By far, more than any other safety I've had in camp so far."
Although they play close to each other in the secondary, corners and safeties are very dissimilar positions. Cornerbacks are concerned with the wide receiver directly in front of them. Safeties see a larger picture, which is why they help line up their teammates and make play calls in the back of the defense.
"There's a lot to learn," Coughlin said. "Safeties have a lot of information to spit out in a short amount of time. It's a totally different position from corner, so he's got a lot of things to learn. But so far he's done pretty well."
"They're 100 percent different," Jackson said of the two positions. "They're both backpedaling, but you're reading completely differently. At corner, you're receiving the call from the safety to figure out what's your plan, so you rely on the safety. At safety, everybody is relying on you to make that check. It two different ends of the spectrum, but you both work together.
"When I'm at right corner I'm not looking at the left side. That's what the safety is supposed to do for me. Being that safety, you have to see both sides. It is a different view, you're reading different things, so you're looking at different things. I'm looking at the end man on the line of scrimmage and the opposite side and which way the quarterback is looking. It's different, but it's good to know both things. I feel like if I ever have to go back to corner, it's good to know both positions."
Photos of Safety Bennett Jackson at Giants Rookie mini-camp
He's currently participating in a wide open competition at safety. Last year, Antrel Rolle started every game at strong safety and Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps split the starts at free safety. None of those players is still with the team. The contenders to fill the jobs include second-round draft choice Landon Collins, Cooper Taylor, Berhe, Thompson, recently-signed veteran Jeromy Miles and Jackson.
Although Jackson has played safety for just three months, Merritt is convinced it's the position he's best suited for.
"You have to be ready for three safeties to be on the field," Merritt said. "This kid, who can go down and cover a slot receiver, is going to be huge for us, if he's one of the guys that we decide is going to be in there with the first group. So, it was out of necessity at first moving Bennett. He's able to pick up the defense and being able to regurgitate it back to us, it's been a plus for us."
And for Jackson.
"I've never really played safety, but I like it," he said. "In long third-down situations or something, I would play center of the field to prevent a long pass; I was that guy in the middle of the field. Once I started getting it, it became easier. At first, it was challenging. Now, coach Merritt is on me every play, which I like because it keeps you on your P's and Q's. It just helps you sharpen up your game. I feel like as I continue to progress, I think it's going to be something that I can really be good at."