Kiwi surprise

To think New York used its first-round pick on a defensive player is hardly surprising. To learn it was on a defensive end was borderline shocking. However, the Giants saw an opportunity to select Mathias Kiwanuka, whom they think will be the NFL's next great pass rusher, and didn't hesitate.

"He is just a big, fast pass rusher," said general manager Ernie Accorsi, who added that Kiwanuka was easily the highest-rated player left on the team's draft board when they eventually selected 32nd. "He will probably get bigger weight-wise. There are games he just dominates. You can turn the tape on and see him against certain teams. Or he just burns the edge. He can run around the corner. He has great speed. And they (pass rushers) are just hard to find."

After trading down seven spots in the first round, the Giants selected Kiwanuka, a 6-6, 266-pound defensive end from Boston College. Kiwanuka had a school-record 37.5 sacks in four seasons for the Eagles, including 11.5 in both his sophomore and junior years and 9.5 as a senior in 2005, when he missed a game with knee and ankle sprains. He had 245 total tackles (155 solo) and 64.5 tackles for 297 yards in losses. Kiwanuka also had three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

"We're excited about this pick," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's truly a valuable pick at this point. Picking 32, we had a group of players that we really liked and from that group, without a doubt, he's the highest rated player."

Of the myriad of players the Giants could have taken with their first pick, no one anticipated them scooping up a defensive end. "It's my philosophy and shared by people in this organization you never, ever have enough pass rushers,'' Accorsi said.

The Giants sure have plenty of them. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora are Pro Bowlers and getting to the quarterback is also the strength of second-year man Justin Tuck. Plus, the Giants just signed LaVar Arrington, one of the most gifted pass-rushing linebackers in captivity. Where Kiwanuka fits in may be a mystery but Coughlin said, "Scheme-wise we can arrange that,'' and Accorsi added, "Suffice it to say we wouldn't have picked him if we didn't feel he would be on the field.''

The Giants have already even entertained the thought of allowing Kiwanuka to rush from a two-point stance.

"At the Combine he worked out as a linebacker as well," director of player personnel Jerry Reese said. "It's not out of the question for this guy to stand up and play some kind of outside linebacker. Put them all in there, put him, Tuck, Osi, Strahan in there and let them all rush. Who says you can't do that? On a passing down put them all in there and let them rush."

Kiwanuka said he wasn't stressing over his role.

"They just told me not to worry about it and to come in and play hard and they'd find a spot for me," he said. "It's kind of the same situation that I went into Boston College with. I'm assuming that the New York Giants felt like they saw a good athlete that they couldn't pass up on. From my standpoint I'm not exactly sure how I'll fit in, I just know that I will somewhere."

Owning the 25th overall pick, the Giants opted to trade with the Steelers, acquiring the 32nd overall pick – the very last selection in the first round. The Steelers moved up to take Ohio State receiver Santonio Holmes. In return, the Giants acquired two draft picks from Pittsburgh – a third-round pick (96th overall) and a fourth-round pick (129th overall). It was the fourth time in the last six years Accorsi orchestrated a trade in the first round.

Trading down seven spots was only a minor risk in the eyes of the Giants. There were seven players remaining on the board "we could have lived with'' according to Accorsi and five players "we would have been happy with.'' Three of the five were still there at No. 32 and Kiwanuka was the highest-rated of the five.

After No. 25 and before No. 32, the Giants would have been happy with defensive tackle John McCargo (who went to the Bills at No. 26) and cornerback Kelly Jennings (who went at No. 31 to the Seahawks).

If the Giants stayed at No. 25 they would have picked Kiwanuka anyway. He's the first defensive end to be selected on the first round by the Giants since Oklahoma's Cedric Jones 10 years ago.

The Indianapolis resident said he wasn't surprised to go in the first round – just to the Giants.

"I hadn't talked to them since the Combine," he said, adding that unlike nine or 10 other clubs, the Giants didn't even have him in for a visit and workout.

That was obviously a ploy by the Giants to keep other teams from reading their thoughts. While the comparisons fly around seemingly every first-round pick, the likeness of Kiwanuka to Jevon Kearse doesn't seem too far-fetched.

"I have heard that a little bit," Kiwanuka said. "I have heard a lot of different comparisons throughout my college career. But right now I am just trying to be me."

His best game last season came against North Carolina State when he posted a season-high 12 tackles and 3.5 sacks against the Wolfpack.

"The kid can rush the passer," Coughlin said. "He's smart, he's aware. He has a great sense and feel for the game even though he's relatively new to the game, so we think it's all in front of him as well."

Coming off a stellar junior campaign in 2004, Kiwanuka admitted that he thought long and hard about entering the draft.

"I just felt like there were unfinished things that I had," he said. "I was elected the captain again as a fifth-year senior. So there were a lot of things that I felt that the team could do and things that I felt like I could develop and whether people believe it or not, I felt we had national championship aspirations."

While his Eagles fell well short of the national title last season, Kiwanuka's stock remained on a first-round level a year later, despite the continued knocks against his run defense.

"I feel like I have work to do on all of that stuff," he said. "Playing the run, it is a matter of leverage right now. So there are a lot of things that I'm going to learn and a lot of things that I am picking up. So I feel like I'm just going to get better from here on out. But I'm confident that I could play against the run today. If the games started tomorrow I'd be all right."

But there's no doubt his bread and butter is getting after the QB.

"I have all of the confidence in myself," he said of his pass-rush skills. "One-on-one or two-on-one or whatever the situation is, third-and-long – as a defensive end, as a pass rusher – that is where you make your money."

While his triangle numbers are impressive, Kiwanuka's main claim to fame might be his Ugandan heritage. He displayed a Ugandan flag in his dorm room as a reminder of his African heritage and in memory of his late grandfather, Benedicto Kiwanuka, who was elected Uganda's first prime minister in 1961 and was assassinated in 1972 by Idi Amin.

"My grandfather was prime minister of Uganda," he said proudly. "Both of my parents did immigrate from east Africa, coming here to start a better life. I am kind of a product or testament to hard work."

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