The secondary is a strength for the New York Giants, but if they have designs of competing for a championship, that unit must stay healthy.
The New York Giants have one of the NFL’s top secondaries, but it only means something if they can avoid injuries. That hasn’t been the case the past few seasons. Injuries have strafed their roster for years. The led the NFL in an infamous stat called “Adjusted Games Lost” from 2013-15, which gauges a number of games a team loses their starters and immediate replacements to injury each season.
In 2016, the Giants’ AGL was 52.4 as opposed to 138.7 in 2015. That was good enough for seventh-best in the league and directly correlates to their record improving from 6-10 in 2015 to 11-5 last season.
The Giants realized a healthier roster at nearly every position with the exception of safety. Once again, Landon Collins was the lone survivor come the regular season. Nat Berhe, who was poised for a successful season, was lost to a blood clot in his calf before the season began. Mykkele Thompson, who missed all of 2015 with a torn achilles tendon, injured his knee and was placed on season-ending IR again in September. Rookie Darian Thompson won the starting free safety job in training camp, but lasted just one game after breaking a bone in his foot.
That left Collins, who would go on to a breakout, All-Pro year, to pair up with rookie Andrew Adams, a UDFA out of UConn who got off to a rough start. The Giants wondered what would have happened had the light not gone on for Collins in his second season.
This year, the Giants are guessing these players will stay healthy. Mykkele Thompson has been moved to cornerback, where the club is wrestling with some depth issues. They have three quality players a the position in Pro Bowlers Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and last year’s top draft pick, Eli Apple. But after that, the talent pool runs thin, hence the transfer of Thompson. They added veteran Valentino Blake via free agency but more is needed to bolster depth at the position.
GM Jerry Reese is leaving nothing to chance at safety, either. With Collins, who missed just five of the team’s 1,110 defensive snaps last season, cemented in at strong safety, the Giants have Berhe, Darian Thompson, Adams and UDFA Jadar Johnson to choose from at the free spot. Veteran Duke Ihenacho was signed last week but he sizes up more as a strong safety, so he will likely be Collins’ backup.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is preparing for a battle this summer for the open safety spots.
“Look, this time of year, all jobs are open,” he said last week. ”Now when I say that, there are some obvious ones that come out. But I think that at that particular position, I think the guys realize that they have to come in and somebody has to surface. Whoever that is will start at the beginning and like every year, you need probably more than three. Nowadays, you probably need four, so we will see how it plays out.”
The Giants are hoping they can improve on last year’s numbers. They were 23rd against the pass but their 15 passing TDs allowed was second-lowest in the league behind Denver’s 13. Their 17 INTs were one shy of the NFL lead. They know they have work to do, but also can’t rest on their successes from last season.
“We have to understand that that was last year. Anything from last year, don’t expect that this year,” Jenkins said at OTAs last week. “It is just like we have to start all over again and keep building to get better. You can’t depend on paperwork from last year or plays that we made from last year because it is a new year. As you know, each team always gets better, always brings new guys in and we just have to concentrate on what we have to do.”
The expected starters in the base defense are Apple and Jenkins at corner with Collins and Darian Thompson at the safeties. DRC will be the third corner and then this summer’s camp battles will determine who comes next.
The team is excited about the possibilities the secondary brings. Darien Thompson has been hard at work in his quest to regain his starting role, which apparently is his if he can repeat last year’s performance in camp.
“He has been working the whole time back,” head coach Ben McAdoo said this week. “He has been in a limited role, so we are being smart there, easing him back into it and he will get better as the offseason goes. He will have a couple weeks left there and then into training camp as well.”
Apple believes Thompson will make a huge difference this year and raise the level of play at free safety.
“He’s a great football player,” said Apple. “Very instinctive, he’s always around the ball. He had a great OTA last year in minicamp. I’m just really excited for him to hopefully stay healthy and be out there and progress … I think he’s definitely going to help. He had 18 interceptions in college, so we’ll definitely need that ball-hawking out there in the secondary but also with depth as well. So just in case, you never know what happens during the season with guys getting hurt, so he’s going to be able to help with that and the ball-hawking as well.”