New York Giants' Linebacker Issue Casts a Cloud of Uncertainty
With the steady departure of some of the most flamboyant personalities in Giants' history, the months of June and July have been eerily quiet.
There have been no anonymous sources chomping at the bit to alert the media of a certain tight end’s outcries against the front office, no messages from ex-teammates that criticize the team’s trophy quarterback on national television. It may be dull for the tabloids, but Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin wouldn’t have it any other way.
However, the termination of off-the-field issues has not prevented a slew of questions stemming from the events that transpire within a 60-minute game clock.
Namely, the linebacker position.
Largely ignored in favor of the ineptitude of the offense down the stretch, the Giants linebacker corps came up staggeringly small during the stretch run. Antonio Pierce was missing tackles, Chase Blackburn reverted back to the career backup that he was, and Danny Clark simply wore down after being a pleasant surprise through the first half of the season.
And the defensive performance suffered mightily because of it. The entire starting front was battling through injuries but was still supplying adequate pressure.
However, there were countless occasions in which the quarterback was able to avoid the initial pressure, bounce outside, and either scramble or shovel it to the running back for a chunk of yardage.
What could that be attributed to? Lack of speed from the linebackers.
If the quarterback was able to escape the clutches of Mathias Kiwanuka or Justin Tuck, he was able to attain breathing room and take advantage of a defense that had been scrambling for six or seven seconds already. Pierce, Clark, and Blackburn simply could not catch the quarterback or the running back.
This resulted in an inability for the Giants defense to stymie the opposing offenses on third down. The Giants allowed the Eagles to move the chains seven times in 14 third down opportunities.
It was no secret the Giants would have to alleviate the sudden speed deprivation within the linebacker corps. Within the first week of free agency, the Giants lured 26-year-old Falcons linebacker Michael Boley to move up north by signing him to a five-year deal worth up to $25 million.
They continued their youth and speed movement by drafting Clint Sintim from the University of Virginia on day one.
Both linebackers possess an overabundance of speed, and will be placed into separate roles. Boley is extremely efficient in covering running backs and tight ends due to his savvy and speed and will be asked to do exactly that to prevent another Westbrook or Witten nightmare scenario from emerging in these crucial divisional battles.
On the other hand, Clint Sintim caught the attention of the Giants by being a menace to opposing quarterbacks. He led the NCAA in sacks by a linebacker in his final year at Virginia, and gives the Giants even more flexibility in rushing the passer.
Suddenly, a position that was exposed during the late season collapse appeared to be a position of strength. However, problems have recently emerged.
Shortly after the completion of mini-camp, Boley had arthroscopic hip surgery to repair a torn labrum. His period of recovery is projected to be eight to 10 weeks, which will place him on a schedule to return by opening day.
Regardless, due to a suspension enforced today due to a 2008 domestic battery case against Boley, he will not play the season opener against Washington.
More importantly, the hip surgery will hinder his ability to master the playbook. Due to this roadblock, Boley may have to learn the playbook while trying to cover the likes of Felix Jones and Reggie Bush in the first months of the season.
Meanwhile, Sintim has been experiencing some injury difficulties too. He hurt his hamstring in the initial rookie workouts, which held him out of mini-camps. If this injury protrudes up through training camp, the learning curve for the rookie linebacker may become even steeper.
This year’s Giants defense has a chance to be special. A devastating rotation in the front four coupled with the development of an extremely talented secondary gives this unit a chance to be one of the league’s elite. However, if the linebackers crumble as they did to finish off the 2008 campaign, all this talent may go for naught.
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