The Giants are so desperate to find someone who can play in the middle that they moved a prototypical weak side linebacker to MLB. While LB seemed like the club's biggest need heading into the draft they waited until the fourth round before selecting a ‘backer. While they are certainly set at WLB with Michael Boley in place, the other two spots are as up for grabs as any other positions on the team. Needless to say, LB will bear close watching this summer in Albany.
Who mans the middle?
For the past five seasons, the Giants never had to worry about who would be lining up at middle linebacker. Making all the calls and making sure everyone was in place and knew what they were doing, Antonio Pierce was the defense's rock since coming over from Washington in 2005. Sure his play might have slipped some in the past season or two, but he was as dependable and as stand-up a player and guy as the Giants had. Needless to say, he'll be missed – by everyone around the organization. However, such is life in the NFL. Now the Giants' full attention has turned to which player will replace Pierce at MLB. Neither Chase Blackburn nor Jonathan Goff was all that impressive in their auditions in the middle last season after Pierce was felled by that neck injury. The thoughts and hopes of the organization are that fourth-round pick Philip Dillard will be the eventual man in the middle, but there's no way of knowing if he'll be ready by opening day or not. And the final piece to the MLB puzzle is Gerris Wilkinson, who hasn't shown much yet at WLB but is being given some reps in the middle to see how he fares there. He's certainly athletic enough, but it would be very surprising – to TGI, at least – if he emerged from camp with the job. We're not sure what kind of odds Vegas would place on the four candidates, but we do know one thing: unless they sign someone off the street one of these four guys will be the new Antonio Pierce on Sept. 12.
Will they be strong enough?
The other veteran that the Giants opted not to retain was strong-side linebacker Danny Clark, who was solid, if not spectacular, during his brief stint with Big Blue. While Clark didn't make many plays, he often wasn't put in position to. That's one thing the Giants would like to change. With a quicker, more athletic ‘Sam,' they'll be able to do more things defensively. Like Dillard at MLB, the club's SLB of the future is definitely Clint Sintim, who was drafted in the second round last year. But he didn't appear to make all that much progress as a rookie, so the jury is still out on whether or not he'll win the job by opening day. The safe pick would likely be Chase Blackburn, who can and has played all three LB spots, but never really distinguished himself at any. Bryan Kehl is probably the wild card here. He's a true weak-side backer, but obviously that post is filled nicely with Michael Boley. If Kehl can prove that he's the best option in camp, he could very well round out a very speedy crop of backers. Another possibility who often gets overlooked because he does the long-snapping is Zak DeOssie, who's a true ‘Sam' for sure.
Will Boley improve?
The sad thing about his debut season is that Michael Boley's first season in New York is mostly going to be remembered for his foolish comments directed toward Hall-of-Famer Harry Carson. However, Boley really established himself as a ‘Will' that could play very steady, sometimes superb, defense. The Giants and their fans are hopeful that he can continue to improve in his second season playing in the defense. TGI sees no reason why he can't.
Strength of unit: The Giants crop of LBs is very young, fast and athletic. If they can find three guys they're comfortable with, they have a chance to put together a strong LB unit that will last for years. They certainly have plenty of solid, viable options to play with Michael Boley.
Weakness of unit: With youth comes inexperience. There are obviously going to be plenty of speed bumps and growing pains along the way this season. And without their coach on the field in Antonio Pierce, these youngsters really are going to be out there on their own in 2010.
Key additions: The main addition to the LB corps came when the Giants selected Philip Dillard in the fourth round. It wouldn't be all that surprising if he were able to win the starting MLB job by opening day. He seems to have picked everything up very quickly thus far and doesn't exactly have to beat out Dick Butkus to win the post. Also, the Giants tabbed Adrian Tracy on the draft's third day. He played DE at William & Mary but will be an outside backer for New York.
Key losses: Obviously if they were still playing at a high level, the Giants wouldn't have willingly parted ways with Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark. But those two guys will definitely be missed if for nothing more than their leadership ability. They were both good guys on the field and in the locker room and set a good example for the younger LBs.
Darkhorse: The Giants really like Kenny Ingram, the Florida State product who's back for another go-round.
On the spot: The move to the middle may be Gerris Wilkinson's final chance to make something of himself in New York.
6.5 – Total number of sacks by New York LBs in 2009
97.8 – Average number of tackles for the departed Antonio Pierce during the past five seasons