Giants defensive captain Jon Beason is the unit's quarterback on the field, the traffic cop who keeps everything running smoothly. He's the guy the players look to for guidance and leadership.

But where does he turn when he needs to see those things?

"In Brandon we trust," he said. "And I trust."

That would be veteran safety Brandon Meriweather, whom the Giants took a flier on during the summer when they were nearly depleted at the position because of injuries -- and who has rewarded their gamble by becoming one of the most important pieces to the defense. He's started every game, played nearly every snap and made some big tackles as the Giants have compiled a 3-2 record.

When the Giants first signed him, that wasn't the kind of impact people wanted to talk about. The buzz was that the desperate Giants had to stoop down and bring in a washed-up headhunter who had run afoul of the NFL, been fined and suspended multiple times for illegal hits and likely would continue to play his reckless brand of football to the detriment of himself and the team.

That couldn't be further from what has happened. Meriweather has not drawn any penalties, nor has the league had to reach out to him regarding any of his hits.

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"Not yet," Meriweather said with a smile. "Let's pray that it doesn't become an issue."

The Giants are happy it hasn't. "As the years go on, the fines get heavier, so he doesn't want to pay the fines," rookie safety Landon Collins said. "It's definitely been a good thing that he's been playing within the rules because then I get to keep him alongside of me and they don't kick him out of the game and stuff like that."

Meriweather said he doesn't feel as if he has changed his play as much as his attitude toward playing.

"I grew up a little bit," he said. "I'm not thinking about it anymore, I'm not harping on it, I'm not trying to prove the league wrong anymore. I'm not doing any of that . . . I'm not the same player I used to be. I'm not out trying to just bring pain to everybody. I'm actually trying to enjoy the game and have fun during the game and get to have fun with my teammates and win."

It's that word, "fun," that Meriweather says over and over when he talks about this team and this season. Maybe it's because he was out of football until the Giants called. Maybe he's been rejuvenated by his teammates and position-mates -- Collins and third-year backup Cooper Taylor, whom he collectively calls "hilarious."

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Or maybe he's just found his happy place with the Giants.

"This is a little different than every other team I've been on," Meriweather said.

He's been on a few -- the Patriots, Bears and, for the previous three seasons, Washington. Now he is with the Giants in what might be his last best chance to be a key player for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

"I would prefer to get [a ring] this year," he said. "You never know when it's going to be that chance. You never know when your last play is going to be. If I can get one this year, that'd be great. But you never know."

The Giants have embraced Meriweather not only as a player but as a leader. They've even entrusted one of their most valuable young defensive players -- Collins, a second-round pick last spring -- to his care.

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"He's a great role model, a great captain and a great person," Collins said. "He's taught me a lot, especially on the field. Just knowing things off the field and what to do, it's brought me a perspective of how to play the game and how I should be able to read and pick up concepts very quickly."

Because he has played so much football in his career, he also is a valuable resource for the coaching staff.

"I love that guy," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "He's really smart and he'll come over [to me] all the time. When he first got here, I had to calm him down a little bit. But now that he's got a little comfort level, he's great to bounce things off of. I always believe in checking with guys who actually play the game when you put in something new or you decide to do things a certain way, and he's great that way. He's good for the other players."

That Meriweather experience factor might be heightened Monday night against the Eagles. With Philadelphia's rapid-fire offense, the Giants will need someone at the back of the defense who has seen just about everything an NFL team can possibly run.

"Obviously where your eyes are, how quickly you line up, how quickly you see what you have to see, knowing full well the ball is going to be snapped quickly," Tom Coughlin said of the challenges the Eagles present. "Knowing that a lot of what you're dealing with is an attempt to distract, that's where the veteran part of it helps."

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Said Beason, "In the secondary, it's all about communication, signals, getting guys on the same page so then you can go play fast, you can go be special. He's a leader. In my eyes, he's a captain."

That's quite an evolution, from scrap-heap pickup to trusted veteran. But it's nothing like the evolution that Meriweather himself has gone through. The player who once seemed unwilling to adjust to the new, safer rules of the NFL has mellowed. The player who used to call himself "the party-starter" for sparking his team with out-of-control plays is now the chaperone.

Instead of creating chaos, he now contains it. "The most important thing that he's brought to us is he's able to settle things down," Spagnuolo said.

Do it within the rules. And do it with a smile.

"It's just fun," Meriweather said. "It's fun to see the young boy [Collins] evolving, it's fun messing with Coop [Cooper Taylor] every day. It's just fun. I'm having fun with it and I'm going to have fun until it's over."