Giants 2012 Training Camp Preview: Linebackers
Part 10 of our 2012 training camp preview examines the linebackers.
The Players: Chase Blackburn, Michael Boley, Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones, Mathias Kiwanuka, Jake Muasau, Spencer Paysinger, Keith Rivers, Clint Sintim, Jacquian Williams
The Storylines: Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will need to quickly decide if there is legitimate quality among the quantity in this unit, especially in the middle, where he has made no guarantees about whether incumbent Blackburn can hold the starting job.
What Blackburn has in his favor is experience. He more than makes up for any deficiencies he has in the physical aspect of his game with intelligence, something that cannot be taught.
Fewell has many options as presented by the different talents represented in this unit. If all stay healthy, the linebacking corps could very well end up being the surprise of this team in terms of its production.
Also worth watching is Kiwanuka, the strong side linebacker. If the team can’t find a fourth defensive end for its rotation, one option would be to move Kiwanuka to defensive end in some packages and take advantage of putting other guys on the field at that strong side position.
Keep an Eye On: Last year, a broken ankle put Herzlich on the sideline from Week 13 right through the end of the post season. Interestingly, Herzlich was cleared to practice, but remained inactive down the stretch, the coaches opting to stick with Blackburn, the veteran.
Also something I found to be interesting was that Fewell noted at the end of the spring workouts that no one from the middle linebacker candidates had stepped up to wrest control of the starting job from Blackburn.
This summer, then, is going to be pivotal for Herzlich, whom some believe could be the future at middle linebacker. It will be interesting to see just how far he’s come along in his development and if the ankle injury took any toll on his speed.
Predictions: Although three guys every week will earn the title of “starter” in this unit, I think the thing to watch is how many snaps are doled out per game to the guys playing the middle linebacker spot. It would not surprise me one bit if, say the starting middle linebacker only received a handful of snaps while a “sub” took on the bulk of the snaps according to the game’s flow and the opponent’s game plan.
Also given the numbers at this position, there are a couple of veterans who seem to have an uphill battle to make the roster. The first is Sintim, the former second round pick who has been de-railed by injury. Wit the Giants having extended Mathias Kiwanuka and with Jones getting work on the outside at that position, Sintim, who was unable to get on the field this spring as he recovers from his send straight knee surgery, appears to be fading from the picture.
The other veteran who would seem to have an uphill battle to make the roster this year is Paysinger, who last year made most of his noise on special teams. Paysinger has Boley, Rivers and Williams ahead of him at the weakside spot, making it unlikely the Giants will carry a fourth player at that position.
In the middle, Blackburn will open the season as the starter, though I believe Herzlich will get loads of opportunity to eventually make that position his for the long-term. We could see a transition at some point mid-season at that position.
I’m not quite sure where Rivers is going to fit in. He’s been a career-long weakside linebacker who has been considered for the middle. As it stands, it’s hard enough coming to a new team to learn a new defense, but toss into the mix having to learn a new position, and the task just became that much harder.
I’m curious to see how well Jones does if he stays on the outside. I have a feeling he’s not going to see much time in the middle unless injuries take a toll there.
Last but not least, I’m not sure that there will be a spot on the roster for Muasau, the undrafted free agent, given the numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised though if they try to get him on the practice squad.