The New York Football Giants appear headed for a season marked by uncertainty at the middle linebacker position. This is surprising given the Giants had the entire offseason to fix this mess at middle linebacker, but didn't.
The Giants had a very good handle on former pro-bowler Antonio Pierce’s balky back, which is why they released him so early in the offseason. While the move initially surprised many media and fans, the fact that Pierce now works for ESPN is proof enough the Giants were correct in their decision.
Now some would say it is early to judge as we are still only in the preseason. But it appears to me that the Giants do not have an inside linebacker capable of replacing even a fraction of what Pierce brought to the table.
And Giants’ General Manager Jerry Reese had the entirety of the free agency period and draft at his disposal to fix this problem, a problem might I add everyone, fans and media alike, thought was pretty blatant.
The following is a breakdown of the different ‘backers vying to become the Giants’ middle linebacker for the 2010 season.
*As a bonus I have included a section following the article on what I think the Giants should have done to address their hole at middle linebacker.
To put it simply, Goff cannot tackle. While I know the Giants’ coaches want an intelligent player at middle linebacker they need to remember its not all brain but also some brawn. It’s become maddening watching Goff take the appropriate keys and angles only to blow the play because he fails to wrap up over and over again.
Goff, standing at 6’2 and about 240 pounds was rumored to be especially good in coverage as his combination of fleet feet and smarts supposedly gave him advantage. But in live game action Goff has been a disappointment in that department, blowing assignments and showing poor ball skills.
When in man coverage he constantly gives up plays to the running back and tight end position while also being inefficient in his zones.
While he is fast enough to play the deep zone new coordinator Perry Fewell likes and intelligent enough for Tom Coughlin he just lacks the chutzpah to man up to the physical nature of the position.
While Goff may end up starting the season, his lack of physical nature will become evident to opposing coordinators and teams will begin to attack him with extreme prejudice.
The rookie fourth round pick out of Nebraska definitely has potential but right now it is obvious his head is swimming in the NFL game. On top of that one serious cause for concern about Dillard is that he is awful disengaging from opposing lineman.
In other words once Dillard is blocked he is out of the play. So the only way Dillard can make a play is by avoiding all contact until he reaches the ball carrier.
So while Dillard, a good athlete who stands at 6 ft 245 pounds has promise, he better start shortening that learning curve or he will quickly find out how dank, depressing and deep Tom Coughlin’s doghouse is.
Flat out, the kid is not starting material right now. However by midseason if he progresses he could very well be the Giants' best option.
Bulluck has been removed from contention and is now competing for a starting job on the outside against 2009 second-round pick Clint Sintim. Bulluck, standing 6’3 and about 240 pounds is a crafty veteran who’s so athletic that even at 33 he still has some legs left.
However he is coming off a serious knee injury, and the older you get the slower you heal. On top of that Bulluck is coming into a brand new scheme filled with new teammates he has no chemistry with.
However Bulluck is a savvy veteran who has experience playing the middle spot for the Titans in nickel and dime situations, so the inside isn’t totally foreign to him. But while Bulluck might be able to play the inside in a pinch, I get the feeling the Giants’ aren’t comfortable with Bulluck playing there on a full-time basis.
While part of the reason to move Bulluck to the outside is that is where he is most comfortable, him not playing the middle makes me nervous for Bulluck's ability to be a healthy contributor to the Giants this season considering the weak competition he was up against.
Wilkinson is the one linebacker competing for the inside linebacker spot who offers a measure of physicality. Standing at 6’3 and listed at 231 pounds but to the eye looks 250 pounds easy Wilkinson cuts an imposing figure.
Problem is he can’t stay healthy, and he can’t play consistently.
Wilkinson is one of those players who you can just tell drives his coaches insane. Just when they think Wilkinson has figured it out he regresses or gets injured. In other words no matter how much energy they put into him in practice it never amounts to anything on the field
But Wilkinson has the talent to be so much more. He has shown potential blitzing, engaging lineman, dropping in coverage and attacking the run. However he is entering his fifth year, so if he hasn’t figured it out how to play consistently or how to stay healthy he probably never will.
At the end of the day the Giants will never willingly start Wilkinson because they know they can’t trust him.
Boley, one of last year’s much ballyhooed free agent additions to the Giants came from Atlanta with a reputation for being a finesse guy. Well those rumors were right, and to top it off the lithe 6’3 225 pounder is always hurt.
But that is not why Boley isn’t an option for the middle; well it is part of the reason but not the main reason. The main reason is that Boley has no experience making calls or adjustments for the defense. And his on-field awareness leaves little hope that he could develop in that regard.
And to top it all off Boley is a reckless player who often freelances out of scheme, going with what he sees. Problem is his eyes aren’t that good and many times he leaves huge chunks of field exposed in the run and pass game.
While it is rumored that Boley is the only linebacker whose starting job is safe, that says more about the status of the linebacking core in general than his individual play.
2010 is an uncapped year; the Giants could have spent as much money as they pleased dedicated to this year. So while the Giants did make a big splash by giving $37 million to safety Antrel Rolle, they could have and should have spent more.
What I would have done is attacked free agency even more aggressively with the purpose of also getting Colts’ middle linebacker Gary Brackett. Now Brackett actually made it to free agency, his negotiations with the Colts being surprisingly contentious.
So while he eventually resigned with the Colts the Giants had a period of time where they could have gone after him with a hard sell.
Now The Colts resigned Brackett to a five-year $33 million deal with a $12 million guaranteed signing bonus. Now 2010 is the uncapped year, and the Giants are opening the doors on a new $1.6 billion dollar stadium with a huge hole at middle linebacker.
If I were the Giants I would have made Brackett and offer he couldn’t refuse (chin scratch), a five year $40 million dollar deal with a $17 million dollar signing bonus. This way most of the contract damage and overpaying is done in the first year of the contract, when there are no cap consequences.
Is that overpaying? Yes, and to be upfront overpaying in free agency for a 29-year old 5’11 235 pound 4-3 linebacker is something I once thought I would never advocate.
But there is an exception to every rule, and this was it, but the Giants let the opportunity pass them by.