All three of the Giants' new linebackers were in the lineup when the Giants played the Jets last Friday night, even though middle linebacker Nick Greisen wasn't healthy enough to start. It wasn't perfect. Without Greisen, the rebuilt starting unit wasn't complete. But having all three of them dressed for the same game was, at least, a start.

Unfortunately, that is considered progress these days because of the injury problems that have plagued the Giants' linebacking corps this summer. They had such high hopes when they replaced Brandon Short, Mike Barrow and Dhani Jones with Carlos Emmons, Greisen and Barrett Green. It was the first time the Giants have started a season with three new starting linebackers since 1967. Yet they've rarely had a chance to look at the trio together on the field. And that, according to all three linebackers, has been extremely tough to deal with. It was especially tough a few weeks ago, when the Giants' first-team defense was picked apart by the Carolina Panthers in a 27-20 preseason loss.

"It's frustrating because we know if we'd been out there it wouldn't have gone down like that," Green said. "We know when we're out there, we'll be able to make things happen."

At the moment, though, they're the only ones that seem to know that for sure. All three bring great promise to their positions. But all three have been plagued by injury woes.

Emmons was supposed to be the star of this unit. He was the defensive MVP of the Philadelphia Eagles last season before he broke his left fibula in a game on Dec. 21. Still, he was good enough and healthy enough that the Giants made him their most high profile offseason signing, when they lured him up the Turnpike with a five-year, $16.5 million deal.

They knew he wasn't fully recovered. They knew he'd have to ease his way back onto the field, sitting out the spring mini-camps and practicing just once a day when summer training camp began. But what they weren't apparently prepared for was what happened on Aug. 6, the day before the Giants held their joint practices against the Jets, when the 30-year-old Emmons was once again bothered by his surgically repaired leg.

"None of us were told or expected that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "I don't think Carlos did, either."

Actually, Emmons did – and he insisted Coughlin knew, too.

"I knew it was going to be like this when I came," Emmons said. "I was still in the rehab process, trying to get everything stronger. I came in and pushed it kind of hard, but I wanted to. I knew I may hurt it, but I wasn't really concerned about that. I wanted to see how it was going to feel when I needed to make cuts in a game, because I wanted to know early."

"(The Giants) talked to the doctors, so they knew. They get the same kind of information I get."

The lanky Emmons (6-5, 250) returned to practice on Aug. 23 and had a very good, four-tackle performance in limited action against the Jets – a very encouraging performance for the 30-year-old, nine-year veteran. At his peak, he's one of the best strongside linebackers in the NFL. Last year, he allowed just 24 catches for 170 yards and three touchdowns to opposing tight ends. Can he approach that level of play after missing most of the summer and playing in only the last two preseason games? Can he feel comfortable playing in a completely new linebacking corps?

"I think the chemistry thing is sometimes overrated," Emmons said. "When we have a veteran player who is in there with those guys, goes to meetings, goes to practice, and going through the things mentally, he knows what he has to do once he gets back on the field. He doesn't have to be out there a long time to be able to handle what he is doing. It doesn't take me long to get ready and mix with the other guys."

Green doesn't seem to think it'll take him long either, which is good since he's been plagued by his own injuries. It started on Aug. 5, with what Coughlin said was "some question about whether he was having a headache or something." It turned out that headache was really a Grade II concussion, which was just the start of Green's injury woes.

He played in the opener against the Chiefs, but emerged with a mild ankle sprain. When he returned to practice a week later he suffered a deep bruise of his thigh. Then while "just trying to loosen up and trying to compensate for the leg," he ended up slightly pulling a muscle in his back, which forced him to miss the game against Carolina.

"I would say it's definitely frustrating," he said.

It definitely is, considering the Giants lured the 26-year-old out of the obscurity of the Detroit Lions with a five-year, $13.25 million deal. In theory, with Emmons tied up with the tight end on the strong side, the 6-0, 225-pound Green will play a key position in new defensive coordinator Tim Lewis' aggressive defense. He's slightly undersized, but the Giants hoped Lewis would find ways to take advantage of his speed. Still, even if Green and Emmons are healthy, the key to all this rebuilding is Greisen, a very untested player the Giants drafted in the fifth round in 2002. The 25-year-old was stepping in for Mike Barrow, who led the Giants with 177 tackles last season – exactly 176 more than Greisen has had on defense during his two-year career.

"You can say it," Greisen said. "I have a lot to prove. And an injury isn't a good way to do it." Greisen pulled his hamstring on the second play of the first preseason game and didn't see action again until a few days before the game against the Jets. He played against the Jets and finished with a team-high six tackles, but he obviously still has more work to do.

"He needs to be back (from his injury) if he's going to make a statement about whether or not that's the spot that he's going to anchor down," Coughlin said.

It will be much easier for Greisen and for everyone in the coming weeks, if the trio can manage to stay healthy. "It's tough when you‘re still trying to get a feel for all the guys and how they play," Greisen said. "(Not having them out there) makes my job a little harder."

It also makes it nearly impossible to evaluate how well the Giants did with their most extensive rebuilding job at linebacker in 37 seasons. The organization believes they'll see a dramatic improvement over last year's mediocre unit.

But they'll only see it if the trio can manage to stay on the field.

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