Michael Strahan: Young Giants Defense Has Big Shoes to Fill

Dean MikelisCorrespondent IAugust 4, 2008

In New York, one of the questions that will be asked throughout camp and perhaps the season will be:  

Many teams might struggle to fill the void left by a seven-time All-Star and a man with 141.5 career sacks, fifth-most all-time. But the Giants, armed with depth at the position, say they are up to the challenge.

"We need a lot of people to replace him," says Giants general manager JERRY REESE. "I don’t think one man can replace Michael Strahan, but we do have a number of guys. We have OSI UMENYIORA, who has been a Pro Bowler for us. JUSTIN TUCK is in the fold. MATHIAS KIWANUKA is a guy we can move back down from linebacker. We have DAVE TOLLEFSON, who is a young player we like a lot. JAY ALFORD can play in and out. And we signed REYNALDO WYNN, who can give us some snaps in and out. We have some guys that we can try to replace Michael with."

Giants head coach TOM COUGHLIN, who called it an honor to coach Strahan, sees the opportunity for some of the young players on the team to step up.

"There is an outstanding football player who is no longer part of our team," says Coughlin. "Anytime a player of that magnitude moves on and retires, no question there is a void to be filled. Young people are going to have greater opportunities now and they will hopefully step up and meet that. Michael Strahan is a very unique individual and a great player in his own right and yet these young guys behind him who have their own abilities, their own strengths and weaknesses, they’ve got to come into their own in that respect."

Umenyiora, who played opposite Strahan on the right side, understands the challenges ahead.

"If the team needs me to be more of a leader," says Umenyiora, who led the club with 13.0 sacks last year, "I believe I will be able to step up and fill that role.

"As a defensive line, I don't know how the retirement is going to affect us. I don't think you can look to anybody and say that one person is going to be Michael Strahan's replacement. It would be ridiculous to think one guy can come in there and do that."

Tuck, an emerging star in the league and one of the top candidates to replace Strahan on the left side, was second on the Giants with 10.0 sacks last year and added two sacks in Super Bowl XLII.

"I learned everything from Strahan," he says. "Everything. He taught all of us how to go about the business and being a pro."

Another young player who will be watched closely in camp will be Kiwanuka, who can play both end and linebacker.

"Losing a guy like Strahan, who was somebody that had been around and helped this organization for so long, is tough," Kiwanuka says. "But we are going to get it done. It’s going to be a group effort to get this done. We have great leaders and great leadership out there already, but I think that everybody is going to have to pull a little more weight now."

As for a possible position switch back to defensive end, Kiwanuka just wants to play, period.

"It’s the same thing I’ve said all along, which is that I just want to be out there on the field," he says. "We have to get our best 11 guys out there on the field. That’s all that matters."

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