When the Giants open training camp in late July, the strongside linebacker (Mathias Kiwanuka) and weakside backer (Michael Boley) positions will be staffed by the incumbents and the middle linebacker will be … well, that's where it gets interesting.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell hinted today it will be a crowded and spirited competition to identify the starter in the middle of the defense, while conceding the need for a traditional two-down, run-stopping backer has decreased.
Chase Blackburn, who started the last four regular season games and all four postseason games for the Super Bowl XLVI champion Giants, will likely get the first shot at the job. But he'll be joined by several other candidates.
"Chase goes back to that role," Fewell said. "(Mark) Herzlich will have an opportunity to compete for that role. Greg Jones will have an opportunity to compete for that role. And we are not opposed to putting Keith Rivers – giving him the opportunity to compete for that role, also. So there is going to be competition."
There has been some speculation that Boley will be in the middle linebacker mix. It could happen, but Fewell prefers to keep Boley where he is.
"I think Michael Boley has the ability to do that," Fewell said. "Is that his best position? I don't think that is his best position in the long run. But, yes, he definitely has the ability to do that."
Fewell spoke between practices at the Giants' rookie minicamp at the Timex Performance Center. And while the veterans are not allowed on the field, they were the subject of several questions asked by reporters who hadn't seen Fewell since the Super Bowl.
It's clear that Fewell likes the talent pool at linebacker. He just has to sort out how to use it all.
"That is going to be an area of emphasis for us this year," Fewell said. "We are in the classroom right now trying to get a feel for what our new addition – Keith Rivers (obtained in a trade with Cincinnati) – what he knows about our defense and how much he can understand and learn about our defense. And then we are just giving the young guys more opportunity to hear us talk about the calls and the communications of our defense. And so I sense that we are going to put it up for grabs. Whoever can take the bull by the horns and lead us will have the opportunity to step up and play. Obviously, he will have to do it on the football field, too. But more so in the classroom – being a leader in the classroom and knowing exactly how to set the front and get the coverage squared away."
In 2011, Blackburn, Jones, Herzlich and Jacquian Williams all played middle linebacker (safety Deon Grant was listed as the starter in six games in which the Giants opened in a sub defense). Because the NFL has become such a passing league, the rugged linebacker in the middle of the defense is not as prevalent as he was five or 10 years ago.
"I don't think college football allows you to have a big anchor middle linebacker anymore because of the way college football plays," Fewell said. "And I don't think the NFL requires that as much anymore because a lot of these teams are one-back spread teams. They throw the ball all over the place. We talk in terms of being a two-down MIK (linebacker) and then having the third down MIK linebacker. What is a two-down MIK? So we might have to redefine that a little bit as we continue to evaluate what offenses are doing in the NFL."
*Cornerback Brandon Bing, who spent the last three months of the 2011 season on the practice squad, has been one of the most impressive players in the rookie camp.
"I call him 'Bada,'" Fewell said. "He is not a surprise because he worked and he is enthusiastic. He worked last year on the practice squad. And then coming into this camp he is showing what he can do. We are excited about him competing for one of those jobs this spring as well as this fall. He has picked up where he left off from practice from the playoffs."
*Fewell on cornerback Jayron Hosley, the team's third-round choice in last month's draft:
"(He) still has a lot to learn," Fewell said. "We see some athletic ability and talent there. He has got to progress with the speed of the game in the NFL and the pace of practice. But I think there is a lot to work with there."
*Fewell is hopeful of getting a meaningful contribution from veteran defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, who was signed last month.
"We obviously evaluated him off the film from last year with the New Orleans Saints," Fewell said. "And I thought he ran well. I thought he was a load in there, a big man that can push the pocket in the pass game. You better put two people on him, okay. And that helps us, that helps our defensive ends. That helps us as a pass rush team. And then a big anchor as far as the run game is concerned. You have to take two. He can swallow up a hole. So he has got to get himself into football shape. We really like what we evaluated and we hope he is motivated enough to come in and provide us with that dominant guy up front."
*An interesting player trying out in camp is Limas Sweed, the Pittsburgh Steelers' second-round selection in the 2008 draft. Sweed, the 53rd overall pick, had only seven receptions in two years before missing the 2010 (torn Achilles tendon) and 2011 (torn labrum) seasons.
"Unfortunate injuries and things happen," Sweed said. "That is the nature of the game. And you just have to bounce back. It is all on the will of the man.
"I'm a firm believer in just putting in hard work and seeing where things take me at the end of the day. Right now, I'm not worried about the numbers, not worried about anything. I'm just taking it day-by-day. I am putting the work in and when the coaches put me out there I just make the best of every opportunity."
Sweed said he has worked out for Cincinnati and Chicago and has other tryouts lined up if the Giants don't sign him.
*Another veteran who was in camp yesterday, former Philadelphia center Jamaal Jackson, decided to retire.
"He came in, he was very nice," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He just said, 'Coach, I just don't feel like my heart is in it.'"
*Free agent running back/fullback Joe Martinek of Rutgers has caught Coughlin's eye.
"He has been pretty good the whole camp, to be honest with you; very steady," Coughlin said. "I think probably he can play both spots. That would be good."
*Registration is open for the NYRR New York Giants Run of Champions 5K and Walgreens Walk, Presented by Walgreens and Duane Reade.
The events will be held Sunday, June 24. The 5K run and the Walk with Walgreens start at* *9:00 a.m., with the Play60 kids races beginning at 11:00 a.m. The races will start in the MetLife Stadium parking lot (between lots J and L), continue on the roadways on the perimeter of the stadium parking complex and finish in the north end zone of MetLife Stadium.
Runners of all ages and abilities are welcome to take advantage of an opportunity to live every Giants fan's dream: running full-speed into the end zone in MetLife Stadium - without getting tackled! After the race, participants can enjoy a behind-the-scenes locker room tour, meet Giants legends, and more. The Walgreens Walk offers a less sweaty way to join the fun. Walkers follow the same course - high-stepping into the end zone is optional but encouraged. Play60 Kids Races will finish the day, as kids will have their own opportunity to run across the field at MetLife Stadium.
A special VIP Package provides access to the stadium's MetLife 50 Club before and after the race. This air conditioned space will include a buffet with soft drinks, as well as restrooms and a staffed location to store a bag during the event. Most importantly, you will be able to take a picture with the Super Bowl trophy and rub elbows with select Giants legends.
This exciting event will benefit the Giants Foundation, which assists youth-related charities throughout the greater New York area.
For information and to register, CLICK HERE