Injuries to Tiki Barber's ankle and Michael Strahan's eye received more attention from the broadcasters, but the concerned expression Tom Coughlin wore when Nick Greisen was flat on his back for a few seconds endorsed Greisen's growing importance within the organization. Greisen got up following a fourth-quarter fall in Oakland, Calif., and finished the game, which has become a challenging chore for Giants linebackers this season. Those commentators commended strong safety Gibril Wilson later for stuffing Oakland tailback Zack Crockett on a second-and-goal play from the Giants' 1 with about three minutes left in a game the Giants led 30-21.
It was actually the gritty Greisen who initially contained Crockett on that play and the ensuing third-and-goal play, in which Crockett was again dropped for no gain. Greisen, of course, is used to not receiving recognition for what he has accomplished on the field. In the Giants' locker room, however, his teammates are well aware of Greisen's growth this season.
While Strahan and Osi Umenyiora deservedly have Honolulu on their February agendas, and Antonio Pierce is an absolute beast, Greisen just might be the team's defensive MVP. Always a consistent contributor on special teams, Greisen didn't start a game this season until the Giants beat St. Louis on Oct. 2, a contest Carlos Emmons missed with a minor knee injury. The fourth-year pro still finished fourth on the team in tackles (79), forced and recovered three fumbles, defended five passes and recorded a sack.
"Nick, what he's done, you really can't put into words," said strongside linebacker Reggie Torbor. "It's just priceless, like the commercial. He plays Mike (middle linebacker), he plays Will (weakside linebacker) at a moment's notice or a second's notice, literally. He goes out there, you never hear him complain, you never hear him whining. He does what he has to do for us to win. I think that's important for us and I think that's a big reason why we are where we are today."
Greisen's versatility was especially evident in Philadelphia, where Pierce suffered a high ankle sprain on Dec. 11 that kept him out of the Giants' final three regular-season games and their NFC Playoff game against Carolina last Sunday. The former University of Wisconsin standout moved to the middle, made all the defensive calls and commendably replaced Pierce. The Giants missed Pierce's intensity and play-making ability, but Pierce even sees a lot of himself in Greisen, literally and figuratively.
Pierce, who wasn't drafted out of the University of Arizona in 2001, didn't crack Washington's starting lineup until 2004, his fourth NFL season. He parlayed his breakout season into a six-year, $26 million deal with the Giants in March and believes league personnel people should reward Greisen for his play in 2005.
"I think he's got a little bit of my path in him," Pierce said. "People doubt you, doubt you. You constantly prove them wrong and eventually somebody's going to respect him in this league as a starter, because I think he's proven it. It's all about going out and proving to people that you can do it at a consistent level. When you do it the way he's been doing it, you're going to catch some attention."
Convincing coaches that he deserves starting status has been an arduous process, though. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Greisen, a native of Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., was injured during Coughlin's first training camp and was beaten out by Kevin Lewis for the starting middle linebacker position entering the 2004 season. Greisen eventually started seven games, all at weakside linebacker, as Barrett Green struggled to recover from knee and ankle injuries.
Although he registered 72 tackles, two sacks and six defended passes, Greisen was the odd linebacker out following 2005 training camp as well, even as Lewis was waived and Green continued to recover from surgery to repair those aforementioned injuries. This time, Giants coaches moved Emmons from the strong side to the weak side and inserted Torbor as the strongside starter. Emmons eventually missed seven games and was placed on injured reserve against his will, while Torbor missed the Oakland and Carolina games with a hamstring injury.
With Green on injured reserve again, and Emmons, Pierce and Torbor all nursing lingering injuries, Greisen, a fifth-round pick in 2002, was the last linebacker standing.
"This is a big year for Nick," Pierce said. "For one, it's a year where he was a starter last year and they didn't think he could do it again. And he came back and he's playing strong. He's played three different positions this year, just been consistent. He's been banged up and fought through injuries.
"Right now, he's the guy holding that group together. He's been there through training camp and the whole season. He's been that type of player who's been making plays. He's been helping guys out, as far as lining them up when (rookie) Chase (Blackburn) was out there. He's been doing a good job with the younger players, too."
Greisen has tried to instill confidence in inexperienced players like the since-injured Blackburn and Alonzo Jackson, who have been thrust into pivotal roles due to the injury epidemic.
"I know that we have a lot of guys that are out and a lot of guys that are new faces," Greisen said. "But we've all played football before. We all have pride and confidence. We need to go out there and just play football."
In a couple months, though, the Giants will be faced with either making a long-term commitment to the 26-year-old Greisen or losing the unrestricted free agent to another franchise. Considering the returns they've received on a five-year, $12.5 million investment in the 28-year-old Green and a five-year, $16.5 million commitment made to the 32-year-old Emmons, retaining Greisen should be an offseason priority.
"I can't make decisions for (the Giants' brass)," Pierce said. "But he has proven his worth this year, if not to this team, then to a lot of other teams out there that he can be a steady starter in this league and make plays."
Greisen glue that kept defense together
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