New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin watches his team during NFL football minicamp, Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II
June 18, 2015

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) There are a lot of questions about the New York Giants' defense heading into Steve Spagnuolo's second stint as coordinator and none is more pressing than the safety spots.

The Giants have gone from a veteran group that struggled last season to the young and inexperienced corps that features an oft-injured third-year pro, a second-year player without a career start and two draft picks.

''Right now it is a challenge,'' Spagnuolo said with the Giants going through a three-day veterans minicamp. ''Challenge is probably the best word. It is a challenge for our patience and our trust in them. Every day it gets better, I can tell you that.''

It's different than in recent years. Safety Antrel Rolle was always around to hold things together. But he signed with Chicago in the offseason and Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps were not re-signed, leaving the position wide open.

If anyone has the inside track, it would be rookie Landon Collins. The Giants made a trade before the start of the second day of the draft to move up and grab the Alabama product with the first pick. He has worked with the first team during the offseason training activities and he has been the No. 1 defense during the minicamp along with Cooper Taylor, the third-year pro who missed last season with a foot injury. He has four tackles in 10 career games.

Backing them up are Nat Berhe, a second-year pro who is nursing a calf injury, and rookie Mykkele Thompson, a fifth-round draft pick out of Texas.

''A lot of us are young and don't have much or any experience in the NFL,'' said Thompson, whose biggest drawback is keeping his hands on the ball. ''If you play your cards right and do well, the right opportunity could be there.''

Collins has been given the biggest task. He is making the calls from the secondary, something he did at Alabama. Being vocal helps him get his point across but it's still a learning process.

''We play a lot of the same coverages as at Alabama with three (and) middle four closing,'' he said. ''The only thing that changes is the names. It is the names and those landmarks. Guys are very keen to landmarks and being in the right position at this level.''

What is helping now is that the defense is getting a chance to play against the Giants' offense. Eli Manning and company use a lot of personnel groups in their version of the West Coast offense, forcing the safeties to make adjustments.

''Safety is a very cerebral position,'' Taylor said Wednesday. ''You have to know what everybody is doing. It's not a spot where you say: `This is my job and that's all I need to know.' Here you need to know what the guys up front are doing, what the corners are doing, all the shifts and adjustments. Once you know that you know the whole defense and you can play fast.''

The Giants also want their safeties to be interchangeable, play the strong side on one play and switch to free safety the next. In other words, make it difficult for the opposing quarterback.

''It's always a concern when you don't have guys with NFL experience, and now you are getting ready to possibly start two inexperienced players,'' said Dave Merritt, who coaches the safeties. ''There is always a hiccup in your throat.''

Merritt said the kids on the field have the ability and smarts to succeed. The keys will be to trust each other, hear the calls, know you assignments within the call and then help each other out.

The player missing the most now is Berhe. He played in all 16 games last season and might have been working with the first unit had he not injured his right calf in the offseason workouts.

''I'm glad it happened now than in the season,'' he said. ''It's a muscle. It will heal. I'm taking all the mental reps. I know what I have to do. I'll be ready for camp.''

It will be interesting to see whether the group is ready for the season, which starts Sept. 13 in Dallas against Tony Romo and the Cowboys.

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