The Giants' secondary sets high goals for 2017:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' secondary was among the NFL's most improved and most decorated in 2016. It helped the defense surrender 765 fewer passing yards than it had the previous season, and every veteran starter earned All-Pro recognition: safety Landon Collins on the first team, and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the second team. Collins and Jenkins also played in the Pro Bowl.
To some, that might seem to be an excellent collective achievement. But to the denizens of the defensive backs meeting room, it was simply a good start. Consistent and significant improvement is their goal as they prepare for the 2017 season.
"I think that we can be special," Rodgers-Cromartie said today after a minicamp practice. "I think that we started something last year. The main thing is that we are coming back and everybody is together and we are in the same system. So once you know your system and you know your guys, it makes it that much easier to play."
"Man, it can be tremendously better," Collins said of the Giants' secondary. "You are trying to be ranked up with Earl Thomas and them (with the Seattle Seahawks'), the Broncos defense. You are trying to be out here and play with their secondary. The guys we have back there, and the chemistry that we have, and the respect we have for one another is unbelievable."
The defensive backfield is poised to take a step up. Collins, Jenkins and DRC are among the league's very best at their positions. Eli Apple, the Giants' first-round draft choice in 2016, started 12 games, including the NFC Wild Card Game, and should continue to improve. Darian Thompson, the third-round selection in that draft, won a starting job in the spring, but played in only two games because of a foot injury. He is now healthy and competing with Andrew Adams, who started 13 games as a rookie free agent last year. The Giants also added cornerback Valentino Blake and safety Duke Ihenacho, who have played a combined 116 regular-season games.
"This is the first time in three years where the personnel has stayed somewhat the same and the scheme obviously is 90 percent the same," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "So there is some definite value to that."
In addition, the group has the same coaches – Spagnuolo, secondary/cornerbacks coach Tim Walton and secondary/safeties coach David Merritt.
"It is huge," Spagnuolo said of the continuity. "There have been times where I have had this position and the staff has changed one or two spots, and you do spend some time teaching the coaches exactly what you want if they haven't been in your system. We try to do a very good job of it, the communication from me to the coaches to the players has to be exact, or else it doesn't come out right."
Perhaps the most exciting and intriguing player and prospect is Collins, the 2015 second-round draft choice who blossomed into a star last season. For the second year in a row, he started every game and led the team in tackles, last season with 125, which was a record for a Giants safety. He is the only player in NFL history to have 100 or more solo tackles, and at least 2.0 sacks, five interceptions, and 12 passes defensed in a season.
Collins was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performances in Week 7 against the Rams in London (two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, plus eight solo tackles) and in Week 9 vs. Philadelphia (12 tackles and an interception). The Giants had a bye in Week 8. He was the first Giants player to be named NFC Defensive Player of Week in consecutive games, the first player in NFL to do it since Charles Tillman in 2012, and first safety since Troy Polamalu in 2010. Oh, and Collins was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in November.
He believes he will play better this year.
"I want to be a 10," he said. "I work on being a 10 and I feel like I could be a little bit better. I would say I (was) a seven (last year). There are a lot of things I could work on, and I was nitpicking and watching film by myself and there are a few things I know I could be better at myself. I am definitely going to work on it this year and this offseason."
Spagnuolo also believes Collins will continue to improve.
"Landon is one of those guys that I don't believe he rests on his laurels," Spagnuolo said. "I just think he wants to go out there and work. He is passionate about the game and he is always coming to me to do extra things, I don't have to chase him."
Where can Collins get better?
"Everybody has to have the cerebral part of the game down," Spagnuolo said. "I think that everyone can do better at that. I think that there was a time early in the year last year that Landon struggled a bit with play action and recognizing play action. But we threw one at him today and he made a nice play, so he has progressed with that. And little disguise things. I think that there are some little detail things that I think he is working on."
Because of that, Collins and by extension the Giants' entire secondary, should be an impressive outfit in 2017.