Last offseason, the New York Giants had a three man rotation of Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, and Deon Grant at the safety position. Due to injuries, the team often had to resort to three safety packages with Antrel Rolle playing the part of a nickel cornerback. However, with a the departure of Deon Grant, the Giants have a void to fill at the third safety position.
Although Tyler Sash is the favorite to win the battle, undrafted free agent JoJo Nicolas is hoping to at least turn some heads in training camp. When asked by Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger about how his first OTA's and mini camp went, Nicolas expressed his excitement.
"It's a great advantage being at OTA's and minicamp because you're able to learn everything and pick up things and then you get to interact with the vets. Even though the OTA's are voluntary, they still were there with the young guys showing us how things work. When you have a team of veterans like that, that's how you get your Super Bowl rings," he said. "So it's been great. I'm enjoying and just being able to come everyday and get better, it's a great opportunity and a blessing."
As a senior last season, Nicolas led the Miami Hurricanes in interceptions and ranked third on the team in tackles. Although he made strides in his final season at the collegiate level, the knock against Nicolas is that he is not explosive enough to take his game to the NFL. He has shown some extremely impressive football instincts; however, Nicolas has some major technique issues with his drop backs and does not change direction with authority.
But despite what the critics say, Nicolas has produced efficiently at a nationally recognized program, which happens to be the same university that the Giants current starting safeties Kenny Philips and Antrel Rolle attended. While talking how going to the same school as both starters at his position, Nicolas stated the following:
"Oh, man, it's the best. It just gives you that feeling of being more comfortable because there are guys that you have played with back in college and they've been here and everything you're going through now, they've already went through. It's a big advantage," he said.
Needless to say, the Giants have had some success with safeties that have attended "The U". In the NFL, players that come from Miami, whether it be Ed Reed and Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans, or even former New York Giant Jesse Armstead, always seem to have a unique "swagger" about them that distinguishes them from their peers. Nicolas agrees with this sentiment, and he hopes to have it carry over into his game.
"There is (a little more swagger) because where we come from being in Miami, most of us that are on the team are actually from that area and everything we come from so you'll see some of the same chemistry and type of swagger that you'll see just because of the fact that it's the University of Miami. It's a little different and we have great camaraderie between each other no matter if it's a guy who is five years ahead of you and you never even met or a guy you played next to in college, it's the same feeling of 'this is my brother, we're family because he's from the University of Miami,' " he added.
Swagger or no swagger, Nicolas is going to have a tough time making the team out of training camp. With an influx of talented corners, the team may elect to keep only three safeties while adding an extra cornerback that can also play safety if needed.
Furthermore, Nicolas is not the only long-shot candidate hoping to make the roster. Will Hill, an undrafted, but talented player out of the University of Florida is also vying for a spot on the roster. However, Nicolas is hoping to show defensive coordinator Perry Fewell that he is more than a one-dimensional player.
"Anywhere I can help. I'm playing safety so I'm doing everything I can to learn the plays and help out on special teams. Whatever it is I can do, I'll do my best to do it," he said.
With the uncertainty on the depth chart and the immense amount of competition, perhaps the best case scenario for JoJo Nicolas is that he makes the practice squad. However, this is a situation that will be interesting to follow as the team prepares to heads up to Albany on July 26th.
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