Julian Love
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Giants rookie Julian Love is playing everywhere right now. The question is, “Cornerback or safety?”

The New York Giants have been making Julian Love work all over the place this offseason. He has worked outside, inside and at the free safety position.

Love is currently competing with Grant Haley and Sam Beal for the nickel cornerback position. However, the Giants have been doing their due diligence with the Notre Dame product to make sure that they get everything they can out of him.

There have been many inclinations that Love will get some solid time at the free safety position this year. The Giants have put the rookie out there several times and he has held his own and is currently playing behind three-time Pro Bowler Antoine Bethea

The former Arizona Cardinal has had an illustrious career with 75 pass deflections and over 1200 tackles. Not to mention he’s also hauled in 24 picks over his 13-year career. Most recently, Bethea had 121 tackles and three sacks in 2018. While he has been playing some of his best football over the last several seasons, Bethea is not getting any younger. He will be playing next season at the age of 35. 

The signing of Bethea seemed to be one that would help grow the younger defensive backs while still playing some solid football. He was obviously not a long term solution. But, his wisdom and experience were vital traits that the Giants needed to obtain for their young core.

As of now, the apprentice of Bethea has been Julian Love. Antoine Bethea has given Love the opportunity to learn behind a veteran free safety as Love attempts to play a position that many think is better suited for him.

Love is a highly touted defensive back coming out of college that dropped in the draft due to his lack of elite speed. Love was a Jim Thorpe Award Finalist (best defensive back in college football). He also helped lead Notre Dame to a College Football Playoff semifinal. The accolades were their for Love but his lack of next-level athleticism was the thing holding him back. 

Luckily for Love, the Giants were in desperate need of improvement and depth at free safety. Coming off a season in which Curtis Riley possessed a 23 missed tackles it was apparent that Big Blue needed a change. The signing of Bethea was a good one but as said temporary. Leaving a perfect opportunity for Love to slide right in there.

Love has already shown that he can tackle at a high rate. He only missed four tackles last season in 77 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He has also demonstrated that he has elite coverage skills logging 39 pass breakups—most ever in Notre Dame history—in his collegiate career. As a Giant, he has already made plays there, by providing deep ball coverage over the top on passes intended to speedy receivers such as Darius Slayton.

When it was suggested that safety might be Love’s best fit, he responded by saying, “It doesn’t surprise me. I think my skill set could be similar to that of a free [safety]. I’m smart, physical and have range on the field.”

Love’s work at this position has been solid throughout the offseason. It has been hard for him as he has been splitting reps between safety and cornerback. Through this, Love has been quietly making a name for himself. He has been playing at a high level at both positions and that is why he is a favorite to earn the starting nickel job. 

However, if that does not turn out, or even if it does, the Giants will likely transition Love to the free safety position. This is a more long-term solution for him as the Giants have a plethora of young defensive backs. The Giants currently have six starting-caliber defensive backs under the age of 25.

To help Love see the field, a transition to safety may be in his, and the team’s, best interest. And Love has shown no sign that he is against this move. He has actually taken on the challenge and thinks it will benefit him.

“I can direct a defense, I’m learning to be more vocal on the field. Just playing fast and playing free is what would benefit me at safety.”

For the 2019 season, it is likely that Love will get reps at both nickel cornerback and free safety. However, if Bethea’s age causes him to falter, the fourth-round draft pick may be the perfect candidate to take on the role.

Nevertheless, free safety surely seems like the long-term answer for Julian Love.

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