A new NFL season is right around the corner as training camp is quickly approaching. Leading up to the start of training camp, we will have a run down position-by-position for the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.
The second position we will take a look at is linebacker.
The projected starters for the Giants at linebacker are Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka as the outside linebackers, flanking middle linebacker Chase Blackburn. Projected reserves expected to make an impact this season are Keith Rivers, Jacquian Williams, Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones and Spencer Paysinger.
The Giants had some additions to this unit, as they traded for Rivers from the Cincinnati Bengals and added Jake Muasau. There will be no linebackers from last season that are not returning this season.
The player to watch in the linebacking corps is Rivers. The Giants acquired him this off-season from the Cincinnati Bengals for a fifth round pick. It is a low risk move for the Giants, as Rivers has not been able to live up to expectations in Cincinnati as the ninth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, suffering a rash of injuries. A change of scenery may be all that Rivers needs.
Rivers will open the season in the second unit but has a real chance to finish the season as a starter at any of the three linebacker spots. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said that he plans seeing what versatility Rivers brings, potentially using him at middle linebacker at times during camp. Rivers still has some things to learn about the defense, but the Giants are hoping they had added yet another versatile and athletic linebacker that is capable of playing both the pass and run.
The linebacking group has the potential to be a strength for the Giants this upcoming season. They are a deep bunch, giving the Giants more versatility than they have had in recent seasons. The competition will be fierce as players like Clint Sintim, returning from his second serious knee injury in as many seasons, will be fighting for a roster spot.
The added options give Fewell the ability to play different types of defense. He says that he is more comfortable using three linebackers this season, opposed to the three safeties he has used in most sets the past two seasons.
Blackburn have become defensive coordinators on the
field for the Giants, relaying whatever Fewell says on the sidelines to their
teammates on the field. Communication
was a problem at times for the Giants defense last year so having more than one
player capable of relaying information from the sidelines and setting the
defense is important.
The rookies Williams, Herzlich, Jones and Paysinger will look to expand on their roles from last season and also continue to contribute on special teams.
The potential weakness from this group is stopping the run. Last season, the Giants were not strong against the run, making that a point of emphasis entering training camp and the regular season. In recent seasons the Giants have been using three safeties on the field instead of three linebackers; something that is probable to change this season with veteran safety Deon Grant remaining unsigned and Fewell being more comfortable with his pieces this season. Training camp will be the time that Fewell and head coach Tom Coughlin figure out which combination of players works out best for the Giants. Having so many talented players is a good problem to have as the Giants have turned a position thought to be a weakness from last season into a potential strength.
The wild card of this group is Kiwanuka. General manager Jerry Reese refers to Kiwanuka as a “joker” because of the versatility he possesses. Kiwanuka has improved his pass defense while still being a menace rushing the passer from either linebacker or defensive end. He is becoming more and more comfortable in his hybrid role and could see more time as a pass rusher with the departure of Dave Tollefson. Versatility like Kiwanuka has is what makes game-planning against the Giants defense so difficulty for opposing teams.