John Fennelly, Lead Writer
Okay, so the Giants haven’t spent any high draft picks on linebackers in recent years. That has led to the notion that they have little, or second-rate talent in the middle level of their defense, which is a fair assessment. But the team is confident they have plenty of talent in-house now to get the job done.
If you look closely at the linebacker unit you will find: two top-ten overall draft picks (Aaron Curry and Keith Rivers) and two others that were first-team All-Americans – one who was an ACC Defensive Player of the Year (Mark Herzlich) and the other a Bednarik Award recipient (Dan Connor).
Curry and Rivers are seen as busts who the Giants are rescuing from the NFL scrap heap. I recall the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots building championship teams with players like these.
Herzlich’s journey has been well-documented, but he is a workout warrior who has rounded back into form. He should not be underestimated or written off. Connor is on his third team, but he is a solid football player. He hails from Penn State, aka Linebacker U.
“Not many people know us,” Connor told Giants.com as per Dan Salamone. “Not many people know the names of the guys in the room right now. So we’re looking forward to getting out there and proving ourselves.”
Head coach Tom Coughlin has seen the energy level in the group early in OTAs, a good sign from a unit that basically disappointed in recent seasons. Competition always brings out the best in players, too.
“The other day Keith Rivers made a heck of a play…Herzlich has made some plays. Two days in a row now he has intercepted balls…So I think the guys – they are anxious to make the contribution. They know the position is open. And I think that has motivated them in a very positive way to have a good spring and to give us some strong feelings about where we are, “ Coughlin stated this week as per the team’s website.
The four other LBs on the team are all high-energy individuals. Jacquain Williams and Spencer Paysinger have been cutting their teeth on special teams the past two seasons while playing backup roles on defense. Jake Muasau and Etienne Sabino hope to do the same this year.
Williams, who missed six games last season due to a knee injury, has just begun participating in team drills. You might might remember the spark he provided as a rookie two years ago during the team’s Super Bowl run. He is a tall, fast player who closes quickly on the football. Some have likened him to Giants’ ring of honor member Jesse Armstead. He is in his third season with the Giants and in expected to challenge for a starting role this summer.
Paysinger starred at Oregon on their National Championship team a few years back. After a shaky start with the club, he has developed and acclimated to the pro game. LB coach Jim Herrmann likes what he’s seeing from Paysinger:
“He is doing a good job. He has a great opportunity to get snaps. And he is competing for the job. He has matured over the last two years. To me, the biggest thing I have seen was his maturity level, because he is comfortable with the formation. Now he is going to go out and take the next step forward because he is anticipating the plays faster and faster. He’s not worried about “what do I do in this defense – what do I do in that defense?” It is, “Okay, I know what I am doing – now what is the offense going to do?” And he is anticipating. And all of those guys have done a much better job of that.”
With only eight LBs in camp, Herrmann may be faced with only one cut. The Giants will probably keep at least seven. They could keep all eight, which means Herrmann can start forging his strategy right now. He spoke with the media on Thursday…
Do you have a tentative idea where you are going to use everybody? It just seems like everybody is so new. Do you have any idea of what your tentative plans are as far as who is starting where?
Herrmann: As I was saying earlier, this is basically a new group of guys. And I think the biggest thing right now is we are going out and learning what to do and competing. To me, the competition is going to keep going and keep going and keep going – which is going to make us all better. My biggest thing this is develop a unit, that no matter who is in there, I’m the MIKE, I’m the MIKE. The expectations are for the MIKE position – not for the guy that is in there. To me that is what you have to do. So we are trying to develop a unit that can go out – regardless of who goes out and plays – we are going to be pretty good. Right now they have done a good job. Every single guy is doing a good job at their position.
So it may depend on who you play? You guys are a situational team? Like (Mark) Herzlich may start at some position on some days because you are playing a certain team? Next week you are playing a different type of team?
Herrmann: I think that is a big part of the NFL game today. It is very situational. It is dictated a lot by the offense – what is the offense running? Who is going to be out there? What are our best matchups? Because the NFL is a game of matchups, who has the best matchups?