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New York’s linebacker situation was in shambles at this point last season. Mathias Kiwanuka was still in the early stages of his transition from defensive end, Jonathan Goff was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL, and four rookies (two of them undrafted) ended up making the team.
One of those rookies, Greg Jones, a sixth round draft choice out of Michigan State, found his way into the starting lineup for Week 1. As Giants beat writer Tom Rock (Newsday) pointed out in a tweet on Friday, Jones was the first rookie linebacker to begin the season as a starter since Lawrence Taylor.
He didn’t stay there long, though. He lost his starting job to fellow rookie Mark Herzlich, and when Herzlich went down for the season, the team turned elsewhere for help at middle linebacker. The Giants decided that bringing back Chase Blackburn, who was team-less for the first 12 games of the season, would be a better idea than inserting Jones back into the starting lineup.
The rest is history.
Jones fought back in the summer of 2012, entering camp at a slightly lighter weight so he would be quicker and better suited to play on the outside. He showed versatility and the ability to produce on special teams or in the base defense.
Still, Jones was in a deadlocked tie with Spencer Paysinger for the majority of training camp. The two had difficulty setting themselves apart, making it difficult to predict who would end up surviving the final cut.
Paysinger, who started in training camp last year with Boley out, ran with the first team again this year when the Giants’ starting weak side ‘backer was held up by a nagging hamstring. Despite his effective reserve duty in practice and his standout ability on special teams, the general consensus seemed to be that Jones’ potential far outweighed Paysinger’s.
Apparently, the New York coaching staff sees things a little differently because they kept Paysinger and told Jones to take a walk. The move was surprising, but it was one the team had to make.
Neither player had a real chance at cracking the starting lineup; Blackburn, Kiwanuka and Boley have those spots locked down. It was even unlikely for either one to be an immediate backup, as Herzlich, Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams have been ahead of them on the depth chart all summer.
But the team felt the need to keep one of them, and they chose Paysinger as their man.