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Kiwanuka Key To Giants D


Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to deploy his players in multiple roles. Defensive ends can move inside on passing downs, linebackers can play the strong or weak side, he often played three safeties at the same time last year, and cornerback Terrell Thomas has been getting work in the slot in training camp.

"We're trying to do a lot of different things right now," Kiwanuka said before today's training camp practice at the Timex Performance Center. "Wherever I line up, wherever everybody on the defense lines up, I think we have a lot of guys who can play a lot of different positions, myself included."

The adaptable Kiwanuka certainly fits right in with this group. He was a defensive end when the Giants selected him on the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Kiwanuka moved to strongside linebacker the next year and was an end from 2008-10 (though he did start the season-opening victory over Carolina at linebacker). Now he's back at strongside linebacker as Fewell seeks to get his best 11 players on the field as often as possible.

So what exactly is Kiwanuka, an end playing behind the line or a linebacker?

"I'm a linebacker now," said Kiwanuka, who has worked at both the strongside and weakside positions in camp. "I'll always keep those pass rush skills, always keep those D-line skills because I've been doing that for years now and that's not an issue. But in terms of (my) mentality and all the learning it's a linebacker mentality."

No matter where he plays, Kiwanuka expects to collect a lot of quarterback sacks.

"If you're talking about just rushing from a linebacker spot, once you cross that line of scrimmage, you're just a pass rusher," he said. "All the things you have to think about happen before the ball is snapped. If your number's called, if you get a full head of steam, that helps out a lot. You're trying to get to the quarterback as fast as you can and all those drills, all the work that you've done as a defensive lineman, come back into play.'

Kiwanuka is making the position transition at an interesting juncture in his career. He was arguably the Giants' best defensive player in the first three weeks of the 2010 season, when he had four sacks and four tackles for losses. But two days before a prime time home game vs. Chicago, Kiwanuka was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disk. The injury sidelined him for the reminder of the season.

Early on, the whispers were that Kiwanuka's career could be in jeopardy. To complicate matters, he became a free agent following the season. Soon after Kiwanuka learned he could return to the field the lockout began. He was unsure if he would be an end or a linebacker when it ended.

"People were looking at me as a linebacker, so I tried to keep my weight so it split the difference between where I would play as a defensive end and where I would play as a linebacker," Kiwanuka said, "and be able to go up or down depending on it (where I played). That's what I did."

Through it all, Kiwanuka persevered. When the NFL resumed normal business, Kiwanuka re-signed with the Giants, knowing full well that he was moving back to linebacker.

"We discussed it," Kiwanuka said. "I knew the types of situations that they were planning to use me in. The beauty of having a guy like Perry on your side is that he's going to use his personnel very well. I think I got off to a good start last year before the injury, and I was very happy and very comfortable with the way that I was being used.

"When you go into free agency I think it's important just to, number one, evaluate the team, the coaching staff, (the) city life, those situations, and then money does come into it as a factor," Kiwanuka said. "But you have to take the best opportunity that you have to go out there and perform. So you can go out, sign a contract and play for a team that you don't really fit and cut your career short doing that. So I think finding the best all-around fit is really important."

Kiwanuka's fast start last season influenced his decision to return. He knew he could be a force in the defense at end or linebacker and was confident Fewell would be creative in using him.

"He knows how to use his personnel," Kiwanuka said. "People refer to my versatility but that has a lot to do with the fact that Perry is going to put people in the position to make plays and he's done a good job at that.

"Perry is all about wanting to get the quarterback, stopping the run the way it should be done, and he's going to use whatever means he has to get it done."

After several moves back and forth between the two positions, Kiwanuka has not endured a period of transition in this camp.

"I crossed that bridge and went from being a full-time down lineman to being a full-time linebacker," he said. "This year everything's already clear. I did a lot of that stuff (at linebacker) at the beginning of last year, so it's not that big of an issue."

Kiwanuka also has experience returning from an injury. In the Giants' 2007 Super Bowl season, Kiwanuka started the first 10 games at strongside linebacker. His season ended when he suffered a fractured left fibula in a victory at Detroit. The next year, he moved back to end after Osi Umenyiora suffered a season-ending knee injury and started all 16 games. So Kiwanuka has experience coming back from a serious injury, but admitted he did clear a minor hurdle when he played in the Giants' preseason opener last week against the Panthers.

"I've been through this before, unfortunately, so the first game back from an injury whether its preseason or not, it's always good to get out there," he said. "The adrenaline is going to be pumping regardless of the circumstances. I felt good coming out of the gate and I felt good (making the first hit)."

Neck injuries can be particularly serious, but Kiwanuka said it made him no more nervous about playing last week.

"I think that it actually was a little easier because I've been through it before," he said. "If I had my way, I'd never experience that but it is what it is. I've been in the league for a while now so it just felt good to come out of it."

 Kiwanuka was credited with one solo tackle in limited action.

What does the future hold? Will he take every snap at linebacker? Will he get some snaps at end? Is there a chance he would line up at tackle in some sub defenses?

"My role is fluid here," Kiwanuka said, "and we'll figure it out as we go."

Spoken like a true Fewell disciple.

"There's tremendous potential here," Kiwanuka said. "We have a great core group of guys. Everybody obviously worked hard during the offseason, Everybody's in great shape. I think the thing that puts us in the best position is having Perry. You know he's going to call the right numbers at the right time. If we live up to our potential, we'll dominate."

*Rhys Lloyd, the kicker the Giants signed yesterday, would like an opportunity to win the job. But he's realistic enough to know that the Giants signed him because Lawrence Tynes has a bruised quad muscle.

"I think as of right now I'm just here while he's injured," Lloyd said. "Lawrence is here and he's the guy here, so I'll just take it one week at a time for however long I'm here. I respect Lawrence. I've known him for a while now and we'll just see how it goes.

"I honestly don't know what my role here is, whether it's until the end of this week or whether it's the end of preseason or what. I'm literally here just to kick balls in practice and if he gets healthy and it turns into a competition, then that's the way it goes but as of right now I'm just kind of existing."

Coach Tom Coughlin would not divulge his plans for Lloyd, who will kick in the preseason home opener vs. Chicago.

"Well, let's see what happens," Coughlin said. "Right now, it's a necessity to go into this game. He was very impressive in his workout. We'll see how it goes."

Lloyd has played in 50 regular season NFL games as a kickoff specialist. He has never attempted a regular season field goal or extra point, but has kicked off 220 times with 64 touchbacks (29.1 percent). With kickoffs moved from the 30 to the 35-yard line, that percentage should rise this season.

"A lot of it has to do with weather and time of the year," Lloyd said. "I know it gets cold here, assuming I'm here. Obviously, the five yards for me is a big difference. My bad kicks would still land a couple deep and good ones hopefully go to the back of the end zone. So hopefully the percentage will go up. You never know. I've just got to try and make sure I make good contact and the rest will take care of itself."

Presumably, more kickers will now reach the end zone on their kickoffs. So does that make a specialist like Lloyd more or less important this year?

"It depends," Coughlin said. "Do you like it in the stands behind the goal post?  Right now in preseason, they're running them out from eight, nine yards deep. I don't expect that to keep happening.  Accuracy and field goals are probably going to be most important."

Is it possible Coughlin would keep both Tynes and Lloyd on the roster in the regular season?

"Right now, I would say we have two kickers but we have 90 (on the roster)," he said. "It gets a little tougher when you start talking 53."

*Today's camp attendance was 1,540.

*The following players did not practice: Linebacker Michael Boley (back). "Spasms, it tightened up on him," Coughlin said. "Of course, he's had every test known to man and I guess it feels better today." Defensive ends Justin Tuck (sore Achilles) and Jason Pierre-Paul (back), quarterback Sage Rosenfels (hospitalized at Hackensack Medical Center with strep throat), wide receiver Darius Reynaud (hamstring) and defensive back Jerrard Tarrant (shoulder) also sat out.

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