Jameel McClain, a seven-year veteran and first-year Giant, has moved over from strongside linebacker to take over for Beason in the middle of the defense. And Devon Kennard, a rookie fifth-round draft choice, worked with the first team on the outside today when the Giants opened their mandatory three-day minicamp that will wrap up their offseason work.
“This league is opportunity and a chance for players to show themselves,” McClain said. “Fortunately, we will get Jon back, so we’re blessed to have that, but what we have now is a chance for a lot of people to step up and step into positions that they normally wouldn’t have been in. That’s always good for a football team – diversity.”
“They gave me the opportunity and I’m taking advantage of it,” Kennard said. “I just go out there and do everything I can every day and try to make plays and make an impact and show that I can do things to help the team.”
Last week, Beason suffered a ligament tear and a small fracture to the sesamoid in his right foot during an organized team activity. Beason learned yesterday he will not need surgery, but his foot will be immobilized for six weeks (three weeks in a cast and three in a walking boot). He hopes to play in the Sept. 8 season opener in Detroit, but that is uncertain. Even if he was guaranteed to be on the field for that game, someone must play middle linebacker in training camp and the preseason games. First up is McClain, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before signing with the Giants as a free agent on March 14.
McClain said his playing time in Baltimore was split evenly between inside and outside linebacker in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense. He was penciled in to be on the strong side with the Giants, but has no qualms about spending his summer at middle linebacker in the Giants’ 4-3.
“My experience in this league has been like that,” McClain said. “It’s always been learning different things to try to help out the team. That’s the player that I am. That’s something that I’m used to, so I don’t think it’s anything that I’ll actually lose. If anything, I’ll learn more of the defense.
“Responsibilities always change. With great opportunity comes a lot of responsibility. Getting people lined up and doing things that I’m normally accustomed to is just something that I will bring to it. It’s something that we will all bring to it, so everyone gets a chance to learn what it’s like to be the man, to be the middle linebacker, to make the calls, to get it all right. That makes a great defense when everybody knows what to do.”
Tom Coughlin also has no reservations about temporarily moving McClain inside.
“He’s been in there before,” Coughlin said. “He’s playing in there, he’s played on the outside, so it’s just a simple move.”
Kennard, who took snaps in the middle during the OTAs, is also flexible. At the University of Southern California, Kennard played in 51 games with 32 starts – one at rush end, eight at middle linebacker, five at strongside defensive end and 18 at strongside outside linebacker.
In the last month, he’s been learning a new defense and trying to create a niche for himself in it.
“I’m spending hours and hours in the playbook every day, every night,” Kennard said. “I go home and I’m studying for hours, so I get there and I get those live reps and it’s getting easier and slowing down for me. I’m making more and more plays and making more of an impact and that’s all I’m trying to do – play my part and show that I can help the team.”
Because he is a veteran, McClain will make more of an impact as a leader than Kennard, who was the 174th selection in the NFL Draft just last month. That’s a vital void for McClain to fill, because Beason is one of the team’s foremost leaders. McClain said he is up to the task, even though he is also a newcomer to the defense.
“That’s my game, that’s my style of play,” McClain step. “I believe in picking others up more than myself. If that becomes a leader, that’s what a leader is to some people. To me, it’s just my game, just getting people aligned and being in the right position.
“Nothing changes on this defense or on this team, especially in this linebacker unit. Jon is still there, everybody still communicates and we get this defense down pat. We’re all learning something new or trying to do something different than we were accustomed to doing last year, obviously with the exception of Jon. But other than that, everybody’s locked in and communicating.”