With Perry Fewell as defensive coordinator the past two seasons the New York Giants have relied heavily on a 4-2-5 defensive alignment, often employing three safeties. The way the Giants use their safeties may change somewhat in 2012.
Deon Grant, a veteran who was the team's third safety the past two seasons and gave Fewell the flexibility to play three safeties, has not been re-signed. Grant played 1,125 snaps last season, nearly as many as starters Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips, and there is no obvious replacement on the roster.
That means the Giants might use more traditional two-safety alignments with Rolle and Phillips, while employing three linebackers.
Let's look at the safety depth chart as the defending Super Bowl champion Giants prepare to open training camp at UAlbany on July 27.
Starters: Rolle, Phillips
Reserves: Tyler Sash (2nd year); Stevie Brown (free-agent signee), Will Hill (UDFA); Chris Horton (free-agent signee); JoJo Nicolas (UDFA)
Rolle and Phillips are a quality pair of starters. Phillips had career-bests in interceptions (four) and tackles (86) last season. He had a Pro Football Focus rating of +9.6.
Rolle had 100 tackles and two interceptions. Due to injuries at cornerback Rolle was often required to play out of position against slot receivers. He should benefit this season if the Giants use a more traditional look with their safeties.
Who will back them up is the real question heading into training camp.
Sash was drafted in the sixth round a season ago and is an excellent special teams player. There are questions, however, about whether or not he can be counted on defensively. Brown, entering his third season, and Horton, entering his fourth, were signed to provide competition. Brown has been particularly impressive.
Hill, an undrafted free agent from Florida, has also gotten the attention of the coaching staff.
"Brown really showed me some things that I didn’t see in his workout. Steve really did a good job in covering the ground from the post position, from the half position. I think he had some blitz ability, we worked on the blitzes. He was a guy that I thought we could do multiple things with. I didn’t think that initially, but after the OTAs and minicamp, I think he did some nice things for us. So, that was a pleasant surprise for me," said Fewell. "I still like Will Hill. I think he’s a talented young man. The volume of things that we do, you could see I taxed him a little bit, but again, we will try to put him in a position where he can have success and not have so much to think about in the preseason games. I still like both those guys."
How the safety position shakes out will be one of the more interesting stories of training camp.