2009 New York Giants: Linebackers Preview

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2009 New York Giants: Linebackers Preview
(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

An Eclectic Mix Of Talent

Linebackers Coach: Jim Herrmann (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator: Bill Sheridan (1st Year)

MLB: Antonio Pierce (Starter), Chase Blackburn, Johnathan Goff
WLB: Michael Boley (Starter), Bryan Kehl, Gerris Wilkinson
SLB: Danny Clark (Starter), Zak DeOssie, Clint Sintim

Overview

Jim Herrmann takes over for Bill Sheridan as LB coach, a position he held with the Jets the past three seasons. Herrmann played and coached at Michigan for nearly a quarter century and actually had Sheridan on his staff when he became offensive coordinator there in the mid-1990's. The two have a long working relationship as they bring their expertise to a potpourri of linebacker talent here in East Rutherford.

Middle Linebacker

Antonio Pierce is back as both the centerpiece and the captain of the Giants defense. Pierce is entering his ninth season and a pro and fifth as a Giant. He has led the Giants in tackles the past three seasons, but there has been concern in the media about his decreasing productivity. Bill Sheridan wasn't concerned, though. He laughed when someone mentioned that to him at a press conference. Pierce is in the prime of his career and he will continue to be the quarterback of the defense for the foreseeable future.

Chase Blackburn serves as Pierce's immediate backup as well as a valuable special teamer. Blackburn, a fifth-year free-agent out of Akron, has become a fan favorite with his aggressive style of play.

Jonathan Goff, the Giants' fifth round draft choice in 2008, missed most of last season with injuries. The team is still curious to see if Goff can build on his stellar career at Vanderbilt and become a solid pro linebacker.

Analysis: Pierce will get all the reps unless something unforeseen occurs. Blackburn is an excellent backup with a great motor. As for Goff, the Giants aren't the only ones who want to see what he's made of.

Weak Side Linebacker

The Giants wasted no time inking former Atlanta Falcon Michael Boley once the free-agency period began last February. There is a lot to like about Boley. He's durable -he has never missed a game in his four-year professional career; and he's productive - amassing 334 tackles in 64 games. Although Boley had played the strong side for Atlanta, the Giants want to take advantage of his athletic ability on the weak side.

Bryan Kehl had a nice rookie season last year, playing mainly on special teams, but saw some time with the starting defense when the team got thin at LB.

Gerris Wilkinson is coming off a knee injury, but he remains very much in the team's plans.

Analysis: Boley was signed because of the uncertainty of Kehl and Wilkinson. If you look at all three closely, you' notice they are built more like safeties than linebackers. That is discussion for another day as rumors have one of these players being worked out in the secondary.

Strong Side Linebacker

Danny Clark was brought in last season to defray the loss of Kawika Mitchell. To many, he is a stop-gap player until the team can find a better alternative. That being said, they haven't, not yet, anyhow. Clark is an old Coughlin guy from Jacksonville who is just a steady, reliable pro.

Zak DeOssie is a linebacker by trade but he's on this roster mainly because of his Pro-Bowl special teams ability, especially at long snapper. He can play LB, but the Giants probably do want to use him there if they don't have to.

That is where Clint Sintim (picutred), the first of the Giants' two second round picks, comes in. Herrmann raved about Sintim's ability to cover and stop the run before praising his ability to rush the passer. Translation—he will play all three downs and in every situation. Sintim is an imposing figure at 6'3", 260 and is exactly what the Giants were looking for to bolster their LB corps.

Analysis: The stage is set for Sintim to come in and rush the passer behind Osi Umenyiora. That won't bode well for many quarterbacks in this league.

Outlook

Pundits slammed the Giants for being too thin at linebacker. You just read about nine exceptional men that comprise a talented, versatile group that can adapt and adjust to any situation and are under the tutelage of two extremely capable coaches. The focus is on Sintim, who the Giants hope will instill some fear in opponents.

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