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Safety competition heats up next to Collins

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Landon Collins said he feels no need to introduce himself to the player lining up next to him at the start of each practice, though the identity of that teammate has changed each day of training camp.

The Giants held their fourth practice today, and Collins has had a different free safety playing next to him each day. First it was Darian Thompson, who started every game last season. Next up was Curtis Riley, who played 11 games for the Tennessee Titans the previous two seasons. Yesterday, Andrew Adams, who started 13 games as a rookie in 2016, took reps with the starters. And today's first-team safety was…Michael Thomas, who joined the Giants in March after five seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

"It's definitely unusual, definitely different than anything I've ever been a part of," Thomas said after his first-team audition. "I love it, because I've never been in a situation like that where literally everybody's getting a shot. It's really whoever makes plays, whoever shows up – you getting evaluated, you get a shot to actually be the guy. There's no point in getting mad if someone else makes the play. No, cheer them on and whenever you get in, I don't care if you're with the ones, twos, threes, fours, just go try to play ball and make a play, because you're gonna get your opportunity.

"It's a nice rotation, healthy competition - we love it, man. We're happy every time someone out here makes a play, excited for every opportunity we get so I was happy to go out there today, work on my craft and try to get better. Working with Landon, getting to see how he plays, playing off of him is fun."

Collins said he's not concerned about the changing cast of teammates next to him in the back of the defense.

"I trust all of them," he said. "They know what they're doing, they know the calls, they practice it, we harp it. So now I don't even have to worry about the other side of it. When we have to make a call sometimes they correct me. And with what I have to do because I have a lot on my plate and they know that. We make everything neat."

Collins is a fixture at strong safety. He was selected to the last two Pro Bowls and started every game in his first three season before a fractured forearm forced him to miss the 2017 season finale. Collins is among the NFL's very best defensive players.

But he concedes it's a bit unusual to have someone different playing next to him every day.

"I know all these guys, we talk to each other, so we all have the same mindset," Collins said. "It's just the coaches moving different guys; they want to see a look, how it looks on the field and how the communication is, and how fast we play as a team, as a group in the back end and if we get it right. With every guy that I play with, I always say it's a blessing, because I get a new guy. I get to practice my skills with somebody else and just in case one of us go down we know how each other play. Just a blessing to be on the field with these guys."

What's interesting about the current safety competition is that the holdovers (Thompson and Adams) are on equal footing with the newcomers (Riley and Thomas).

"Bunch of different factors," Thomas said. "It's a new year, new regime, new coaching staff, a bunch of new guys coming in. But what that does is it gives everyone a chance to have a fresh start. Everybody's coming in, we all just trying to compete; we're hungry, everybody's got something to prove. Even the guys that were here before they got something to prove to the new coaching staff. Everybody's got something to prove. It's a good group of guys anyway, a good mix of vets and young guys, so I love it."

An old axiom in sports says it doesn't matter who starts a game, but who finishes it. Thomas is all in on that.

"It's showing what I can do," Thomas said. "Proving to the guys and earning their respect that I deserve to be out there on the field regardless. It doesn't matter if I'm that safety, doesn't matter if I'm nickel (back), doesn't matter if I'm starting, if I got a package. It's just showing that I've earned their respect, I've earned the coaches respect to be out on the field.

"That's why it's easy for us to just go out there and compete. Obviously, we're all trying to compete for that spot, but at the same time, if all of us are playing at our best regardless if we're starting, we'll get an opportunity later on, or it's a different package they put us in. We're going to get a chance to play, so it's just going out there and putting good stuff on tape."

*Cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who underwent ankle surgery and missed the final five games last season, said today he has no lingering health issues.

"I'm one hundred percent," he said. "I can say that today. No issues, no ankle soreness, none of that. I'm one hundred percent."

"I came back the whole offseason just preparing, working on getting my ankle stronger and in and out of cuts, and so far I've been doing good."

*Coach Pat Shurmur on 10-year veteran outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who was signed last week.

"Connor Barwin has got some good rushes left in him – I think you saw that yesterday," Shurmur said. "He's a very veteran player. Along the way, these veteran players help rookies. I don't think you can have too many edge players – I really don't, because at some point we're rushing four, they're dropping back throwing. We've got to be able to get pressure, and we've got to be able to cover."

*The Giants placed rookie cornerback Sam Beal on injured reserve and re-signed defensive back Kenneth Durden.

View the best photos from Training Camp Practice on Sunday

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