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Man in the middle


Tom Coughlin will admit little, except to say, "We will be looking at a couple things today."


One of those options is Jones, who was a tackling machine at Michigan State. If he does start, the Giants can dream that his career will be as successful as the last rookie linebacker to start an opening day game for the team. That was Lawrence Taylor in 1981.


No one is putting Jones in the Hall of Fame just yet. He'll have to play a few games before he merits consideration.


Jones, a sixth-round draft choice, and Mark Herzlich, a free agent from Boston College, are the most obvious in-house candidates to take over for Goff, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in practice Monday.


"(Jones) has been here all preseason and he is a good football player," Coughlin said. "If not, he wouldn't be here. He has had a good preseason himself. Sometimes it is time to step it up."


Asked about Herzlich, Coughlin said, "He can play in there, sure."


The Giants will look at outside candidates, but Coughlin insisted he can line up with his current roster.


"We can play the game the way we are, the way our breakdown goes positionally right now," he said.


If Jones starts, he will be the first Giants rookie to start an opening day game since tight end Michael Matthews in 2007 and the first on defense since tackle Barry Cofield in 2006. Cofield now plays for the Redskins.


Because of the lockout, Jones got his first peek at the defensive playbook just six weeks ago. But he insists he is up to the challenge if called upon.


"I will be as ready as I possibly can be, given the opportunity and to be a leader," Jones said. "I'm just trying to gain the respect of my teammates, and I believe that's what I am going to do."


Whoever lines up on Sunday, neither the players nor Coughlin have time for a pity party.


The Giants head coach admitted "we're all shocked and greatly disappointed by the loss of Jon Goff," but said the team is excited and ready to play the Redskins, their ancient NFC East rivals.


Goff, a fourth-year pro and second-year starter, banged his right knee with an offensive player on a play in Monday's practice. He left practice and put ice on his knee. When Goff was still experiencing issues with the knee on Tuesday, he was sent to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan to be examined by team physicians and obtained an MRI, which revealed the seriousness of the injury.


"It was very shocking," said weakside linebacker Michael Boley, a seven-year veteran. "Would have never thought just by the way he walked off of the field and his whole attitude about it leading up until I heard about it yesterday. It was devastating."


"Jon has worked his tail off," Coughlin said. "He has put himself in a position to be our starting middle backer. He's been an outstanding learner and individual. He's done a great job with the calls and the checks and done all those things throughout the preseason. We saw the knees bang together. For all intents and purposes, the first initial report was that it was a stable knee. And it wasn't that way.


"We re-group and we accept the challenge – look at it as another form of adversity. And on we go."


The Giants were well into formulating their game plan yesterday when they learned that Goff would be unavailable.


"It was the lateness of the hour," Coughlin said. "We didn't find this out until late yesterday afternoon. We had to move fast, we had to think fast, we had to make some decisions there – not under the best of circumstances. Nevertheless, you press on. That's what we're charged with, so here we are.


"The way (the players) presented themselves this morning in the defensive meeting was outstanding. It's not an excuse. You've got a job to do. We've got to go do it. "


Goff is the sixth defensive player to suffer a season-ending injury since the start of training camp, joining cornerbacks Terrell Thomas, Bruce Johnson and Brian Witherspoon, rookie defensive tackle Marvin Austin and linebacker Clint Sintim.


In addition, defensive end Osi Umenyiora (arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 19) and cornerback Prince Amukamara, the team's first-round draft choice this year (broken bone in his foot on Aug. 6), won't face the Redskins.


Defensive end Justin Tuck practiced on a limited basis today because of the lingering effects of a burner he suffered against the Jets on Aug. 29, but Coughlin said Tuck "feels better."


Finally, some good news.


Jones could provide more. At Michigan State, he played in 52 games with 46 starts (31 at middle linebacker, 15 on the strong side). His career totals include 465 tackles (236 solo) with 16.5 sacks for minus-97 yards, 46.5 stops for losses totaling 160 yards and two interceptions. Jones was the Spartans' top tackler in each of his four seasons, including 2009, when he had a career-high 154 stops.


"He's got that force, that inertia," Coughlin said. "He's always been an outstanding tackler and physical player."


Until Goff got hurt, Jones thought his first chance to impress his teammates and coaches would be on special teams. The opportunity to play defense, should he get it, came sooner than anticipated.


"A lot sooner," Jones said. "I'm thinking about it, Jon always said, 'Just be ready, man,' and it was just like 'Wow, I didn't see that coming at all.' But I feel ready for it, gotta always make corrections, and be ready to go."


The team's defensive veterans expressed confidence in Jones, who started and played most of last week's preseason finale in New England and had four tackles (three solo), including a nine-yard sack.


"I like him a lot," safety Deon Grant said. "When I first came in and saw what he was doing in training camp, I'm like, 'Who is this guy?' And then I found out exactly who it was, I remembered exactly what he did in college. The guy was a two or three-time All American. You don't make that by going out and making a few plays. That means you were out there playing some ball. I have a lot of confidence in him. He's very smart and very physical."


"Him, all of our young guys, they did a great job with coming in early on in camp and pretty much picking up the defense," Boley said. "In that last game, Greg did a great job.


"I think we have (enough linebacker depth). We have to learn on the run. We have some young players who have stepped up and played great football in the preseason. Coming into the regular season, we look for big plays out of them, whatever we ask them to do."


The middle linebacker is responsible for not only playing well, but making the defensive calls and helping get everyone lined up. Jones and Herzlich have relatively little experience in Perry Fewell's defense but believe they're up to the task.


"That is what the preseason was all about," Herzlich said. "You have to learn everything in the preseason. As rookies, we played the preseason games as if they were our regular games. We had to know everything and that translated over into the same study habits and translates over to the season."


"You have to get it on the fly," said Coughlin. "Obviously, there will be a lot of mistakes but they will be aggressive ones. That is the thing that you look forward to plus the improvement. You expect a young guy put in that situation to learn from errors and improve."


Jones is well aware that mistakes and excuses in the regular season will not be tolerated.


"They know that, but they also know at the same time I'm still a rookie," Jones said of his fellow defenders. "I haven't had as much as experience as those guys I'm playing with right now, but they know that and they're going to help me out. And we're going to work together to try to win this game."


*The Giants are 49-32-5 on Kickoff Weekend, 48-33-5 in road openers and 32-21-5 in season-opening road games. They won their last three opening day games, beating Washington in 2008-09 and Carolina last year.


The 49 opening day victories are the third-most in NFL history. Chicago and Green Bay are tied for first with 51. The Giants' 48 wins in road openers is second behind the Packers' 52.


*Coughlin is 10-5 on Kickoff Weekend, including 4-3 with the Giants.


*The Giants have created a 9/11 Tribute Mosaic consisting of fans. If you would like to join in, please click here: [


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