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Landon Collins up for the Giant challenge

Landon Collins is seen during Giants rookie minicamp

Landon Collins is seen during Giants rookie minicamp at the team's training facility in East Rutherford, N.J. on May 8, 2015. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Much has been made of the gargantuan shoes Landon Collins is being asked to fill now that he is set to replace Antrel Rolle as starting safety for the Giants.

Not to Collins, though. He has been used to that role for years, ticking off the names one-by-one to underscore his point.

"I've been filling big shoes since I've been in high school," Collins, the Giants' second-round safety, said on Friday after his first NFL practice at the team's rookie minicamp. "First was Eric Reid. Then it was Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Mark Barron and Vinnie Sunseri. It's not a big deal to me."

That impressive list of safeties did nothing to deter Collins from blossoming into one of the country's best safeties, so why would replacing Rolle be any different? Even if the veteran, who was not re-signed by the Giants and joined the Bears, was one of the Giants' most important players and leading voices on defense since 2010.

After following in the footsteps of that imposing group, Collins is confident about taking the next step in his career and providing the Giants with some badly needed help in the secondary. All of his predecessors went on to the NFL; Reid, the 49ers' starter who was a standout at Dutchtown High School in Geisman, Louisiana before Reid got there, Clinton-Dix (Packers), Barron (Rams) and Sunseri (Saints) are all in the NFL now. All played at Alabama either before or during Collins' career with the Crimson Tide.

The Giants believe Collins can be as good as any of them. General manager Jerry Reese took the rare step of trading up for a player when he moved to the first pick of the second round and took Collins. That type of commitment is appreciated by Collins, but he won't soon forget being snubbed in the first round.

"When you have first round next to your name and when you slip into the second round, it touches you in a way that puts a lot of fire in you, a lot of determination in your heart to come out and show why you should have been that person to get drafted . It motivates me to keep playing my best. I have the determination to become the best and show why I should have been drafted in the first round."

The Giants were fortunate to see Collins slip, and they reacted accordingly on Day 2 of the draft. After taking Miami tackle Ereck Flowers with the ninth overall choice to fill a major need, Reese addressed another critical position by moving up for Collins. And while it's still very early in the process, coach Tom Coughlin likes what he sees.

"I really do believe that he can play in the middle of the field," Coughlin said. "He can play in the deep half, he can do all those things, as well as come down and be a physical force in the tackle box."

Coughlin addressed the only knock against Collins -- that he may not have quite the range that you want in a free safety, and that he's better suited to playing closer to the line of scrimmage in a run-support role. In today's NFL, quality all-around safeties need to adequately defend against the deep ball, especially now that the league has become much more freewheeling in the passing game.

In defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system, he needs reliable play in the secondary because of his frequent blitz calls. Collins aims to fit that mold and show he can play the pass as well as, or even better than, the run.

"I played all over the field at Alabama. Left, right, in the [tackle] box, anywhere," said Collins, who had a combined five interceptions and 13 passes defensed in his last two years at Alabama. "That's just what I could do. I think just being able to show my range put a lot of confidence in the Giants, and they had the confidence to put me back there and make plays on the ball."

He'll need to make plays if the Giants' defense, easily the biggest question mark coming into the next season, is to show significant improvement. The Giants are solid at corner with Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but none of last year's starting safeties are back. It would therefore come as a shock if Collins isn't in the starting lineup on opening night against the Cowboys.

"That's all on [Coughlin]," Collins said of whether he starts. "I just have to work my way up onto the depth chart and continue playing my best."

The Giants hope Collins' best is good enough.

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