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The Giants' free safety battle runs four deep

Unusual large group of players are being given an equal shot to win the starting job.

Giants safety Michael Thomas participates in a defensive

Giants safety Michael Thomas participates in a defensive drill during training camp on July 30, 2018. Photo Credit: Brad Penner

Training camp battles are common: Two guys competing for one position on the field, splitting reps, trying to prove to the coaches that they’re the best option. They happen all over the league, and the Giants certainly have a few of them going on this summer.

One position, though, stands out because of the rare number of contestants for the spot.

Through the first five days of practice, the Giants had four players line up at free safety with the starting unit: Curtis Riley, Michael Thomas, Andrew Adams and Darian Thompson. Each of them played the spot on the first four days, and on the fifth, Riley started there before tweaking his hamstring, allowing Thompson to step in.

This isn’t a camp battle, it’s a camp battle royale.

“It’s definitely unusual, definitely different than anything I’ve ever been a part of,” Thomas said. “I love it, because I’ve never been in a situation like that where literally everybody’s getting a shot. It’s really whoever makes plays, whoever shows up.”

The plan for the immediate future is to continue the auditions.

“We’re going to give those guys an opportunity to go out there with the first group and see how they do, and really it’s a rotation,” secondary coach Lou Anarumo said. “As we get deeper into camp, it’ll be more merit-based. Hey, we’re playing in some games and we’re actually tackling people and we’ll see how it goes, but we won’t find out who the best ones are unless we give them a chance, so that’s how we’re doing it.”

It’s a new situation for many of the combatants. But it’s also not an entirely foreign concept, either. The quantity of the candidates is the only thing that makes it different.

“My whole career has been trying to either make the team or create a position for myself,” said Thomas, who was signed as a free agent this offseason. “When you’re undrafted and not the guy they drafted or the guy they wanted in free agency, you have to fight for every rep you get. I love the fact that it’s a new regime, a new coaching staff, and everyone who is here feels like we all have a chance to compete for a starting spot. They made it very clear that’s the situation.”

Riley, still listed on the roster as a cornerback after coming into the league at that position, spent two seasons with the Titans before signing with the Giants this offseason. "I was told that the safety spot is up for grabs," Riley said. "That gave me a little push to come here.” He left Monday’s practice early with a hamstring injury that did not appear to be too serious.

Adams and Thompson have been on the Giants for the past two seasons.

Pat Shurmur explained what he’s looking for from the position.

“I think it’s important that safeties, number one, have to be able to communicate,” the coach said. “They direct the back end, so you’re looking for a guy that has those skills and does it well within our scheme. Obviously, you have to be able to then play what a safety plays. You’ve got to be able to play half the field, you’ve got to be able to play quarters, and then you’ve got to be able to play the middle of the field. And then lastly, you’ve got to be able to play low, in the box, so you don’t always just have a strong or a free. So those are all the things you’re looking for.”

Whoever does that the best will win the job. And as Thomas pointed out, it doesn’t have to be done with the starters.

“It doesn’t matter when you go, with the ones, twos, threes, fours, it’s fine because you know it’s fair and everybody will get their shot and everybody will get their chance,” he said. “Whenever you go, I don’t care when it is, go out there and put it on tape. Everybody is being evaluated.”

In this case, there’s just a lot more everybodies than normal.

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