Giants get their man

The Giants got the offensive lineman they wanted all along. Sure, who wouldn't like to throw Orlando Pace or Walter Jones in at left tackle? But the Giants had their sights set on former Jets right tackle Kareem McKenzie, and went after him in a big way.

After wining and dining McKenzie at Smith & Wollensky in the City, the Giants made McKenzie the top paid RT in the NFL.

"I think my role will be to come in and solidify the offensive line and not be the focal point, but to come in and help out the situation and help out where I can," said McKenzie, the most coveted right tackle in free agency.

Emphasize right tackle. Because despite the seven-year, $37.75 million deal that included a left-tackle-like bonus of $12.5 million, McKenzie has all but vetoed any move to the left side.

Questioned whether he would take any reps at left tackle during training camp, McKenzie said, "No sir. Right tackle is where I'm at."

Was it even discussed in negotiations?

"No. They said, 'Right tackle.' I am a right tackle and that's what I was brought in here to play."

He even likened the possibility of moving to left tackle similar to "throwing a child out there. It's very different."

McKenzie is here to solidify the right side of the line, enabling David Diehl to move to left guard, which will in turn help out LT Luke Petitgout.

"This was the best fit for me," McKenzie said. "That's why I did it. I had other trips scheduled [to visit other suitors] but with all the Giants offered, and including the chance to stay here and get a little closer to home (Willingboro, NJ), I didn't want to waste anybody's time."

McKenzie knew from the get-go it was unlikely the Jets would retain his services. "I never seriously thought there was a chance the Jets would re-sign me," he continued. "This is an organization that wanted me, that wants to win and has a history of winning, if you discount the last two years."

And the massive, 6-6, 327-pound McKenzie arrives with plenty of respect. He didn't even have to pay second-year man Chris Snee for his jersey number 67.

"Kareem is a powerful and durable player and will improve an important position for us," general manager Ernie Accorsi said. "He gives you maturity and leadership. And, he adds to an offensive line that is young and signed."

"Kareem McKenzie is a young, powerful and consistent offensive tackle," head coach Tom Coughlin added. "He has put together a string of years where his production has been very high. He has shown outstanding durability. He's a big, strong man who has been an integral part of their run game."

McKenzie, a former star at Penn State who joined the Jets as a third-round draft choice in 2001, is thrilled about joining the Giants.

"There's a sense of happiness," McKenzie said. "I'm coming back over to Jersey and I finally have a home stadium where you actually are home and it doesn't take as long a time as it would being a Jet to get back to where you live. It's closer to my family. I think it's a great area and the organization has a great history. I can't think of anywhere better to be right now."

With McKenzie on board, New York's opening day OL is likely to look like this: LT Luke Petitgout, LG David Diehl, C Shaun O'Hara, RG Chris Snee and McKenzie. Jason Whittle and Wayne Lucier will provide solid depth.

As a rookie, McKenzie played in eight games as an extra tight end in short-yardage situations. In 2002, McKenzie joined the starting lineup and remained a fixture at right tackle for three seasons, starting every regular season game, plus four postseason contests. With McKenzie providing key blocks, Jets running back Curtis Martin rushed for 4,099 yards the last three seasons, including an NFL-best 1,697 yards in 2004.

In addition to being an outstanding blocker, McKenzie has a well-earned reputation for being a disciplined player. He was not called for a single penalty in 2002, only one in 2004 (a false start infraction in the season's final game) and just two in 2003.

"He does not shoot himself or his team in the foot," Coughlin said.

Asked what he attributes his small number of penalties to, McKenzie laughed and said, "Finding yourself in the right place and not getting caught." He then added, "It takes a lot of hard work to work on your techniques and make sure you do your specific technique the right way."

McKenzie was a three-year starter at Penn State, where he was only the fifth Nittany Lion to be named All-Big Ten three times. As a senior in 2000, McKenzie started 11 games at left tackle and was selected to the all-conference second team after being credited with 54 knockdown blocks. He was first-team All-Big Ten as a junior in 1999, his first season as a guard. McKenzie was a second-team all-conference performer playing left guard as a sophomore in 1998.

McKenzie played only two years of football at Willingboro High School, but was still named an All-America by USA Today. He was All-State and All-Burlington County. McKenzie competed in the discus and shot put on the track team, serving as captain for two seasons.

Off the field, McKenzie has been involved in many civic and charitable endeavors. He also worked as an intern in the NFL's officiating department, which was set up by the Jets' player development department through the league's Career Internship Program in both 2003 and 2004.

TGI's take: Strong, smart and powerful, McKenzie will make a huge difference. There's no doubt New York overpaid for him, but they wanted him that badly - and they got him, which is the bottom line.

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