The New York Giants will likely avoid the norm, making safety Xavier McKinney the defensive playcaller

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Jim Harbaugh kind of made a decisio...
Jim Harbaugh kind of made a decision about the Michigan QB situation

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — It was the final game of the third training camp for the New York Giants. Coach Brian Daboll called on quarterback Daniel Jones and safety Xavier McKinney to take on the offensive and defensive coordinator roles.

Jones called the offensive plays; McKinney defended. It should be fun for the team. A little contest that ended up being two plays — the first a pass interference penalty in the corner of the end zone, the second a leaping touchdown grab by wide receiver David Sills — to test the offensive and defensive playcallers.

Jones was the obvious choice for the attack. He’s the starting quarterback, and quarterbacks always get the green dot on their helmets with the speaker in their ear to relay the plays to teammates in a pinch.

McKinney’s situation is a little different. He is a safety, and on defense, the green dot is traditionally reserved for a linebacker. McKinney’s matchup against Jones in the playcalling challenge confirmed that the Giants likely have a different plan this season.

So I had a discussion with [defensive coordinator Don] “Blink” [Martindale]. And I have a lot of confidence in Wink,” Daboll said. “He’s been doing it that way for the last couple of years. So that’s the one we chose to wear right now.”

The initial reaction from former players to a safety being given that type of responsibility is generally one of surprise. That is not the norm.

“Safety calling a defense? It’s rare,” former Giants linebacker and playcaller Jonathan Casillas said this week while watching the team practice. “Coverages sometimes come from defensive backs, but call the defense? Never from a safety in my experience. But if you have skilled safeties . . .”

McKinney has been the defensive playcaller on the field for most of this summer, which makes some sense because the third-year safety rarely comes off the field and is part of the Giants’ future. Starting middle linebacker Blake Martinez may not always be a three-down player in Martindale’s defense and is in the final year of his contract.

The Giants’ defensive formations this summer have featured a lot of three-safety and one-linebacker looks. Martindale seems to have endless pressure packs with rotating personnel, except on the back end.

Martindale has previously used a safety as a playcaller in his scheme. Eric Weddle and Chuck Clark did it for him in Baltimore. Martindale even connected McKinney with Weddle this offseason to prepare for the role.

Weddle, who retired last year to win a Super Bowl ring with the Los Angeles Rams, played for Martindale from 2016 to 2018 with the Ravens.

“He’s actually helped me a lot, just how to hide certain things and how to be on the same page with Wink and stuff like that,” McKinney said of Weddle. “He really helped me watch film, study film, how he did when he had Wink.”

McKinney, 23, has called plays in the past.

“The last two years it has been [linebacker] … I talked to Wink and this is nothing new to me. I’ve done it before — I did it at [Alabama]McKinney said.

“It’s different when you’ve got grown men in the huddle and you’re trying to get the call to everybody. Obviously, you’re on the back end of it, you might have to run 30 yards and run back to make the play for all .”

That’s a potential downside to having a safety call that plays in a pinch. The other, mentioned by Casillas, is that in two-minute or rush situations, it can be difficult for safeties to communicate with the defensive line — especially if there is significant crowd noise. The call may at times have to go from the safety to the linebacker to the defensive line, which adds an extra layer of communication compared to when the middle linebacker calls the plays.

But Martindale and Daboll are clearly not afraid to think outside the box or adjust on the fly.

“Well, I don’t think it’s written in stone yet…” Martindale said of McKinney, who was the playcaller all season. “It can change week to week on who we have with the green dot.

“The biggest thing is getting them all to communicate.”

In Martindale’s scheme, constantly shifting positions as they rush the passer or seemingly bluff on every play, that may be more important than who calls plays on the field.

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