The 2010 season was panning out to be the defensive end's most promising one yet before a herniated disc diagnosis sidelined Kiwanuka for the rest of the year after just three games. In that short span, Kiwanuka already had 11 tackles and four sacks, including two in the season opener against Carolina.
Kiwanuka, whose stock was soaring just before he was about to hit free agency, was placed on Injured Reserve in late October. Doctors later cleared the 2006 first-round pick in February to return to football activities. After testing the market, Kiwanuka decided to return to the Giants for a sixth season at the end of last week, bringing with him 23.5 career sacks in 61 games.
Football players often say they never know when their last play will be, and that is especially true for those with neck injuries like Kiwanuka, who said that was a "very real possibility."
"I think a lot of that played into my decision to come back," Kiwanuka said. "When you're a fifth-year player looking at the possible end of your career—it puts things in perspective. I was blessed by God and I thank God I have the opportunity to come back. I was cleared to play some time ago, so it's been something I've been ready for, for a few months now."
He still needs to feel that first hit though.
"I've been in this position before," said Kiwanuka, who was also placed on I.R. with a leg injury after 10 games in 2007. "So it's something that's going to be in the back of your head until you get out there and get that first hit. I know the process, I understand there's going to be a little bit of that, but after I get out there and get a first hit, it's full steam ahead."
Meanwhile, with a current stockpile of capable pass rushers and having played some linebacker before, Kiwanuka's role is yet to be determined on a roster in flux.
Drafted as a defensive end and playing that position as a rookie, Kiwanuka moved to strongside linebacker in 2007. He returned to defensive end the next year and remained there, saying on Wednesday that pass rushing is where he "probably" feels most comfortable.
Admitting that it may take some time to decide a lineup, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is just glad to see No. 94 again.
"We have some changing parts in our defense," Fewell said on Monday. "Some personnel have left and we really won't know the makeup of our defense for several weeks now. I am very happy to have him back in the fold and we do plan to do some nice things with him, how we employ those things will be determined a lot later."
In the limited time the second-year coordinator has spent with him, Fewell knows what Kiwanuka is capable of.
"His makeup and mentality as far as how he attacks blockers, how he approaches the game," Fewell said. "He has excellent push off the ball. He has excellent strength and his long arms. He can keep a defender at bay. Those are just some of the qualities that he possesses at the defensive end position."