Who Should Be the New York Giants' Starting Middle Linebacker in 2012?
Naturally, the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants don't have to settle many position battles. The G-men are set in all but a few spots.
With veterans Kareem McKenzie and Jake Ballard gone, they'll make tweaks on the offensive line and at tight end, and losing Mario Manningham, Brandon Jacobs and Aaron Ross means there are fresh openings at No. 3 receiver, No. 2 running back and No. 3 cornerback.
Yet the most intriguing battle might be at a position that only got deeper and lost no bodies in the offseason: middle linebacker. Let's take a look at the candidates.
Chase Blackburn: The 29-year-old veteran basically came out of retirement just in time to win his second Super Bowl last year. When New York got into injury trouble, Blackburn stepped in. He started and played formidably in the final four games of the regular season and all four playoff games, seven of which were won by Big Blue. That, though, was the Giants getting by on the run. Now that they have time to plot things out, Blackburn might not retain his starting role.
Mark Herzlich: The undrafted rookie fought to earn a roster spot and then did a solid job when called upon midway through the season. It's a shame that a broken right ankle essentially ended his first year in Week 12.
Greg Jones: He was the starting middle linebacker to begin the 2011 season, but he only got that job because Jonathan Goff went down, Herzlich wasn't ready yet, and Blackburn wasn't on the roster. It'll be an uphill battle for him in the middle, but at least he has shown he can contribute on the outside, too.
Michael Boley: He's played the weak-side his entire career, but word out of Giants camp this offseason is that the team is considering moving him inside. That makes a lot of sense, because Boley essentially already acts like a middle linebacker when he's on the field as part of the team's popular 4-2-5 alignment. He's a little on the smallish side in comparison to typical 4-3 middle linebackers—and is clearly lighter than Blackburn and Herzlich—but he probably has the experience and the smarts to succeed regardless.
Who should the Giants start the season with at middle linebacker?
As I said yesterday in my starter projections post, I think the idea is to get the best three players on the field at the same time, as often as possible. And to do that, I think the key is to finally slide Boley over while having under-the-radar offseason pickup Keith Rivers battle Jacquian Williams and any other challengers for the right to start opposite Mathias Kiwanuka.
Of course, injuries might become a factor again, and there's a chance that a lot of these guys will eventually have to step up in crucial situations, regardless of whether they're starting right off the bat. The Giants should feel great about the depth they have right across the board at the linebacker position.
Now, they prepare to find out who'll get the first crack at starting, and the most intriguing spot up for grabs is right in the middle.
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