Dave Merritt is the safeties coach, and this year his responsibilities have expanded by 50 percent. Why? Because instead of using two safeties as most teams do – and the Giants primarily did in the past – this team is using three: Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant.
Why? Mostly because of the personnel they have.
“You stop and think about it, there’s not a stock strong safety that’s back there,” Merritt said. “There’s not one guy that you say ‘He can only play strong, we don’t want him in the post.’ That’s not the case. We can put Grant in the post, he did it all in Seattle. We can put Kenny Phillips in the post and we’ve all seen that, as well as with Antrel Rolle who did it in Arizona.
“When you have those guys who are that free safety body type, you start to discuss, ‘Hmm, you know what? If we put these guys on the edge here and the only thing they have to do is force a play, maybe we can get away with this.’ And then we start to build off of that package by saying ‘You know what, because we have three safeties who are athletic, let’s rotate these guys around.’ Don’t handcuff them and pigeonhole them and say you can only play this side or that side.”
It wasn’t always that way, though. Injuries to Mathias Kiwanuka and Keith Bulluck sort of forced the Giants to stumble upon the look. And in the beginning, when Phillips came back to the starting lineup in Week 1, Grant made it clear that he was unhappy about going to the bench.
Merritt said he dealt with that.
“I pulled Deon in immediately and I said ‘Let’s remember some of the conversations that we had,’” Merritt said. “‘Your leadership is more important for us on the field as well as off the field.’ Just by the little conversation, the talk we had, he was able to step back and say ‘You know what Coach, I know my role, therefore I’m going to accept my role and let’s move forward.’”
Still, it wasn’t an immediate satisfaction by Grant.
“Oh, it probably took him a couple of weeks,” Merritt laughed. “But now if you look at his snap total, he’s played almost 280 snaps on defense whereas my two starters have played 300-and-something snaps. So he’s looking at it and saying ‘I’m getting a workout.’ He’s a starter.”
As for the other starter, Phillips, Merritt said he feels like although there has yet to be a big, glamorous play by him, he is back at full strength following a lost 2009 season with knee surgery.
“I think he’s back,” Merritt said. “When you start to break down his tackles and just have a chance to look at his tackles from the coaches’ copies (of game film), you see this kid bend his knees going in to make tackles. In my opinion that’s a true assessment of a guy who has balance, who has athleticism. Can he bend his knees, sink his hips to make tackles? That’s what he’s doing still. I think he’s back.
Merritt said he’s not concerned that Phillips hasn’t yet had the highlight play.
“It’s a little bit of opportunity, but at the same time he’s making the plays that he has to make,” he said. “He missed his first tackle the other night when he missed Witten on the sideline. I think that (big play) is going to come. You look at the play that happened last week against Detroit, the ball hit him in the head. If Kenny had gone for the interception that would have been an interception. Still, Kenny is waiting to make a ‘Wow!’ play. The big ‘Wow!’ play is grab that ball and take it down the sideline. He understands that. His plays are going to come. They’re going to come.”