At some point it seemed to be a certainty that the Giants were going to fill their middle linebacker void from outside the team, and not through the draft.
Approximately one week before training camp, the Giants signed a former marquee player to a deal that could reach $2.5 million over one year. Keith Bulluck has spent his entire career playing for the Tennessee Titans, being inactive for only three games. Of course, the last two were courtesy of a torn ACL that many believed would end his career.
But after reportedly being “blown away” at a recent workout, the Giants decided to take a flier on the former Pro Bowler.
The signing was met with a ho-hum response around the league. How effective can a 33-year old linebacker not even eight months removed from blown out knee be? The laws of physics say not very.
However, the signing isn’t contingent solely on Bulluck’s in-game production. Before making the signing official, the Giants were seriously lacking a veteran presence in their linebacking corps. Now they possess a player who is respected throughout the league, one who is leaving behind a city that loved what he stood for and how he played.
To those that dismiss the importance of having an elder statesman lead a group of younger players, take a look at the secondary last year. This time last year, the papers were filled with stories gushing about the talent the Giants boasted in the secondary.
Yet the performance of the group shriveled to historically bad levels. Why? There were plenty of reasons. The inability to muster any semblance of a pass rush, the helpless schemes devised by Bill Sheridan, and maybe most importantly, the lack of experience to fall back on.
Prior to the Bulluck signing, this year’s linebacker group faced the same quandary as the secondary did last year. There is talent sprinkled throughout the group, but little experience and even less stability.
Last year the Cowboys had a boring offseason after dumping Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson, and Adam “Pacman” Jones and signing a free agent linebacker whose best years appeared to be way behind him. His name was Keith Brooking, and his presence helped shore up a unit that proved to be dominant over the last couple of months.
Will Bulluck come in and make the same impact? Will he lead a pregame huddle that resembles the stomp-you-out style that Michael Strahan employed in 2007? The latter appears to be unlikely, as Jacobs is holding down the fort in that department well right now. There is a good chance Bulluck’s veteran savvy and skill set will pay off for the Giants.
Even if Bulluck’s skills have eroded, it may not matter that much. Over the past three decades, the Giants have exhibited a draft strategy that indicates how they prioritize certain positions.
The Giants last drafted a linebacker in the first round in 1984 (Carl Banks). Since then they have selected five defensive linemen in the first round. That’s more than any other position, and it reflects the importance of having a strong front four.
Common football knowledge dictates that if a team has an above average group of defensive linemen in a 4-3 scheme, the flaws of the three players crouching behind them can be protected. Why else would an aging Ray Lewis demand that the Ravens draft a stud defensive tackle?
That stud tackle, by the way, was Haloti Ngata, a beast of a man who has simultaneously anchored a tenacious Baltimore Ravens defense and helped prolong Ray Lewis’ career.
There’s no reason to think the Giants' front four can’t give Bulluck the same benefits. Arguably last year’s most disappointing group comes into training camp with loads of talent. Given the injuries and inconsistencies last year, it would be foolish to declare that this unit is the strength of the team.
If Bulluck is the starting middle linebacker to open up the season, it will be very interesting to see how the defensive performance holds up. His sideline-to-sideline speed has likely diminished, but that can be compensated for with good defensive line play and a myriad of effective schemes from Perry Fewell.
Lastly, one more note: Merry Training Camp everyone.