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Devon Kennard training to return to rookie form

Posted Jun 8, 2016

LB Devon Kennard chats with Giants.com about his 2016 goals and the team's linebacker unit:  

At this time last year, Devon Kennard was getting ready for his second NFL season, looking to build on a very promising rookie year.

A fifth-round pick out of USC in 2014, Kennard played in 12 games as a rookie and started six. He had 36 tackles, 4.5 sacks and forced two fumbles. He looked like an impact player in the making.

Then the injury bug hit. Foot and hamstring injuries limited him to just nine games and 36 tackles last season. A hamstring also limited his play time as a rookie in 2014. Kennard suffered though injuries during his collegiate and high school career as well.  

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Kennard is determined to stop injuries from getting in his way, and he hopes a more defined body and a new offseason training program will help.

“Just how I take care of my body with my eating and training regimen, I’m focused a lot more on cardio and making sure I’m able to go for 60 minutes and play 24 games this year,” Kennard said. “My body feels very healthy right now. It’s a continual work in progress. I’m trying to make sure I’m ready for December.”

With the hiring of Aaron Wellman this winter, Kennard will be working with a new strength and conditioning coach this season

This offseason, the Giants added a number of new linebackers, including Keenan Robinson, Kelvin Sheppard, and fourth-round draft pick B.J. Goodson. They also returned Jonathan Casillas, J.T. Thomas, Mark Herzlich and re-signed veteran Jasper Brinkley.

“We have a talented group,” Kennard said. “We have guys who have a lot of experience in a lot of different situations, and I think it is going to pay off for us.”

Traditionally, the Giants have taught their linebackers to play all three linebacker positions, and this year’s group has a lot of experience at different spots on the field. During OTA’s, depending on the formation and personnel, different players have often lined up at different spots.

“They don’t know who is going to line up where depending on the situation and we’ll put guys in the best spot to make plays,” Kennard said. “I think it makes it more difficult for the offense. If one series it’s one guy and another it is someone else and we’re all moving around, it is hard to get a grip on it.”

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The linebacker room also has a new leader in Bill McGovern, who was brought in as linebackers coach after leading the outside linebackers for Philadelphia from 2013-2015.

“The energy he brings is awesome,” Kennard said. “Everyone is loving it. He is building a relationship with the players, and I think that’s cool.”

The defense as a whole is digesting defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system.

“I think Coach Spags has done a good job of throwing the whole playbook at us in a lot of ways and giving the guys a big picture view of things,” Kennard said. “Now we’re scaling back in OTA’s and we’re able to focus on the details of everything. Being in the second year for most of us, I think there’s a lot more understanding, communication and guys are on the same page.”

Only veteran acquisitions Robinson and Sheppard, along with the rookie Goodson, are learning the system for the first time. With talent added on the defensive line in Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon to go along with Janoris Jenkins in the secondary, the defense is hoping to improve on last year’s performance.

“The guys we have on the defense this year are incredible,” Kennard said.  “We have to put it on the film though. It’s easy to say on paper we have a good defense, but we know what we did last year and it wasn’t good enough. Until we are doing that during the season, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Everyone in the defensive meeting room knows that simply adding names to a roster doesn’t mean the unit is going to be better. But no one would argue there is less talent in the room now than there was at this time last year. The organization hopes the hard work being put in during OTA’s and then minicamp and training camp will turn a group of talented players into an effective unit.

Devon Kennard hopes to be on the field and do his part by making game-changing plays like he did as a rookie in 2014.