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Safety Tony Jefferson has huge head start as he joins Giants

He just got here, and yet he is more well-versed in the Giants’ defense than players who have been with the team all spring and summer.

“That’s a true statement right there,” safety Tony Jefferson said.

How is this possible?

Here is how: Jefferson spent three seasons and part of a fourth playing safety for the Ravens, where Wink Martindale was the linebackers coach and then the defensive coordinator. This makes Jefferson a well-indoctrinated newcomer, as he was signed to the practice squad last week and is expected to be elevated to the active roster before too long.

Jefferson was fitted for his practice gear, and after his first session with his new team he realized how much he retained and how much is the same from what he gleaned in his first go-round with Martindale, in his first season as the Giants’ defensive coordinator.

“Oh yeah, it’s pretty much the same defense I was running in Baltimore,” Jefferson said. “Everything was pretty fluent for me. It’s pretty good to feel that when you are in the film room, it’s the same words, same language, easy for me to get out there and play fast.”

Tony Jefferson
Bill Kostroun

Jefferson could be a factor on defense for the Giants sooner rather than later. The 30-year old, undrafted out of Oklahoma, was a full-time starter with the Cardinals his first four NFL seasons. His work out in the desert earned him a four-year, $34 million contract with the Ravens. He started in 2017 when Martindale was the linebackers coach and again in 2018 when Martindale ran the Ravens’ defense. Jefferson blew out his knee early in the 2019 season, missed all of 2020 and was released.

After playing in two games for the 49ers in 2021, Jefferson was re-signed by the Ravens and got into four games. He was in camp in Baltimore this summer but was cut in late August.

A veteran has to swallow some of his pride accepting a spot on the practice squad. Jefferson said he turned down offers from other teams to come to the Giants. He knows the lay of the land with his new team.

The starting safeties are Xavier McKinney and Julian Love. Rookie Dane Belton, a fourth-round pick from Iowa, will be in the rotation when he heals fully from a broken collarbone — that could be as soon as this week. The Giants last week claimed off waivers Jason Pinnock (Jets) and Justin Layne (Steelers). They will push for playing time at safety as they make their marks on special teams. Jefferson is by far the most experienced option.

“I think it’s everyone’s goal, they want to be on the 53,” Jefferson said. “You go through spring, you go through camp and you want to end on the 53. Nowadays with how it works you can basically be a guy on the practice squad who comes up on the 53. I just take it in stride, if I get the opportunity I don’t really care too much about the title. I just want to be out there and play football.“Being an old guy like myself, I’ve been around. Being able to know the system is a good thing because it allows me to play fast and when you play fast, for me that is when I play my best. That was a big reason why I chose to come to New York as well.”

Perhaps it will not take long for the 5-foot-11, 211-pound Jefferson to shed his practice squad designation.

“All that is good, of course the opportunity, just knowing the defense and stuff can help me be able to get on the field,” he said. “At the same time I got to go out there and perform, prove to the staff and the organization I can do it and do it at a high level.”

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