As training camp approaches, we will take an in depth look at the defending champions.
Projected starters: OLB Michael Boley, MLB Chase Blackburn, OLB Mathias Kiwanuka
Backups: OLB Keith Rivers, OLB Jacquian Williams, MLB, Clint Sintim, MLB Mark Herzlich, MLB Greg Jones, MLB Jake Muasau, OLB Spencer Paysinger.
Player to watch: Mathias Kiwanuka. What do you do with a guy like Kiwanuka. Recently signed to a new deal, Kiwanuka has become one of the Giants most versatile players on defense. In College and for his first two seasons as a Giant, he played defensive end. He was later asked to move to linebacker because of their depth at DE. Kiwanuka has great initial quickness and speed coming off the edge. He uses his hands and technique to maintain leverage against offensive lineman. Kiwanuka is at his best when rushing the quarterback. He is inconsistent holding the point versus run blockers and has a hard time maintaining coverage. With the new addition of Keith Rivers and promising sophomore players such as Williams and Herzlich, Kiwanuka might find it difficult to keep himself on the field if he does not improve his overage skills.
Strength: Depth. For the first time since Antonio Pierce departed, the Giants have a group of linebackers more versatile in recent memory. The linebacker position will be one of the most competitive positions in camp. Michael Boley is an obvious lock at OLB and Chase Blackburn has proved his worth to this team. Look for both of them to be the leaders of Perry Fewell’s defense. Kiwanuka is comfortable and at his best as a pass rushing OLB/DE. Clint Sintim is returning from injury and will try to fight for a roster spot. Jacquian Williams was impressive during Michael Boley’s injury last year and showed he is an excellent coverage linebacker. The Giants are hoping Keith Rivers can become a difference maker after being drafted ninth overall in the 2008 NFL draft. Mark Herlich and Greg Jones are promising second year players who offer depth at the middle linebacker position. Besides Boley at OLB, there is no starting position that is a lock.
Weakness: Stopping the run. The Giants had a lot of trouble defending the run last season, and finished the season ranked 19th against the run. Due to the lack of quality linebackers, the Giants have started three safeties on defense instead of the more conventional three linebacker system. The Giants are set up this season to have many weapons against all kinds of offensive schemes. Just like their defensive line, the Giants have a chance to rotate their linebackers on every play according to their personal skills. Boley and Williams are excellent coverage linebackers. Herzlich, Blackburn, and Rivers can combat the run. Kiwanuka is their pass rushing specialist. Fewell will be in charge of figuring out the correct combination for each situation. This year could finally be a year where the linebackers play a more important role for the defending champions.
Hit or miss: Keith Rivers. The Giants acquired Rivers from the Cincinnati Bengals for a fifth round pick. The 2008 ninth overall draft pick will have a fresh start here in New York. Rivers has been plagued by injuries throughout his career and has never lived up to his potential. He enters camp as a backup to the three starters and could emerge as a starter by the end of the season. Rivers is a quick athlete who is capable of playing the run and pass, but can he keep the injury bug away from him. He has time to learn the play book, and Fewell has the time to mold him into a New York Giant linebacker. With the possibility of a rotation in the linebacker unit, it may help Rivers stay healthy and on the field.
About the Author
Written by Matthew Stapleton
Ridgewood, New Jersey