EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — Bennett Jackson remembers the day last August when he received a text message that changed his life.
"It said that I had been cut," said Jackson, selected by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 2014 draft out of Notre Dame. "It was definitely stressful. I thought it was over. I didn't know if I would get another chance, but if I did, I would make the most of the opportunity. I always felt like I had the talent to play in this league."
Jackson struggled through preseason training camp a year ago, battling ankle and knee injuries that hampered his chances of making the 53-man roster. In fact, Jackson eventually underwent microfracture surgery on his knee that ended his season.
Jackson, a standout receiver at Notre Dame before switching to cornerback for his senior year, didn't worry about his options, because the Giants then placed Jackson on their practice squad.
"I learned a lot from being on the practice squad," Jackson said Monday. "I made the best out of each day, because you never know what's going to happen."
Last January, the Giants announced that Jackson was once again going to take on a position change. He was being moved from cornerback to safety.
As it turned out, it was a blessing for the 6-foot, 190-pound native of nearby Hazlet, New Jersey.
Jackson has made the most of his position change to free safety. So much so that if the season started tomorrow instead of Sept. 13 against the rival Dallas Cowboys, Jackson would be the starter at free safety.
Sure, the team has undergone a major change at safety, with former starters Antrel Rolle (Chicago Bears) and Stevie Brown (Houston Texans) gone via free agency. The starting safety slots are wide open, so it's anyone's guess who will earn the nod.
But according to Giants secondary and safeties coach Dave Merritt, Jackson has been the most impressive player at safety since camp opened last week.
"This kid, when he sees the ball, he gets to the ball," Merritt said. "He makes plays. He's able to get his hands on the ball more than any other safety. He has a relentless motor and that has to come from within. He's a self-starter who is able to relentlessly go after the ball. He's a big kid, still learning the safety position, but I see him as a productive member of this secondary. "
Merritt told Jackson that he's been with the first unit on merit.
"I said, 'Once you're in there and you got that first-team role, you don't want to give it back,'" Merritt said.
Jackson said that he's taken to being the top free safety.
"I just like being back there," Jackson said. "I like being able to run down and hit someone. At corner, I wasn't able to do that. I think I have good ball skills, playing the ball in the air."
Could he actually fathom he would go from being cut by the team last year to starter this year.
"The first time I was out there, it really hit me," Jackson said. "Once you get out there, there's more motivation to keep it going. I feel like I'm finally fitting in. Last year was a tremendous learning experience for me. I'm getting another opportunity here and I'm making the most of that opportunity."
Jackson is in a battle for playing time with second-round draft pick Landon Collins and third-year veteran Cooper Taylor. Collins was expected to slide into the open slot, but Jackson is making the most of his bid to play.
"Nobody talks about him, but he's done a very good job," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said.
NOTES: Giants GM Jerry Reese told WFAN Radio that he spoke with injured defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul at some point Sunday. Reese said that it was a "good conversation" with Pierre-Paul, who remains in Florida after suffering injuries a fireworks accident. Reese didn't elaborate about the conversation or whether Pierre-Paul plans to sign his franchise contract tender. Pierre-Paul is slated to make $14.8 million this season, but his injuries may force the Giants to place Pierre-Paul on the physically unable to perform list, which will enable the Giants not to pay his salary while he is on the list. If he's placed on that list, Pierre-Paul has to remain there for the first six weeks of the season. ... DE Robert Ayers said he sent Pierre-Paul text messages of encouragement. "I wanted to let him know that we're here for him. As players, we have a bond. I told him in texts that he was on my mind and I was praying for him. I didn't need to get any response back as confirmation. I just knew that we had to let him know that we support him and miss him. When he comes back, we're going to embrace him. We're going to war together."