I recently gave my report card for the Giants 2011 season position-by-position. But because there was only so much space to discuss each position, I wanted to go more in-depth on each position and spin it forward to next season.
Today we look at the linebackers. Tomorrow: Secondary.
During last year’s draft, fans wanted the Giants to draft a linebacker in the first round. When they didn’t, fans wanted Jerry Reese to sign a linebacker in free agency. And when Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim went down with torn ACLs in the preseason, the calls for adding a linebacker grew to a deafening pitch.
But in the end, the Giants only added Chase Blackburn to the mix late in the season and were able to win a Super Bowl with the linebackers on the roster.
Michael Boley emerged as one of the most valuable pieces on Perry Fewell’s defense. He relayed calls into the huddle and was the Giants’ only every-down linebacker. When he missed two games due to injury, the defense struggled badly.
Mathias Kiwanuka grew more comfortable with his hybrid linebacker/defensive end role and speedy rookie Jacquian Williams showed promise. The Giants might not have won the Super Bowl without the late addition of Blackburn, who made the big interception on Tom Brady while covering Rob Gronkowski.
While the Giants could draft another linebacker, they seem pretty upbeat about the potential about the linebackers from last year’s rookie crop. Head coach Tom Coughlin mentioned the young linebackers when asked about which young players he is looking forward to seeing emerge this season.
Williams, Greg Jones, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger saw plenty of special teams action and will receive a full offseason of coaching and training this year after having the lockout shorten their on-the-job training last year.
Goff and Blackburn are unrestricted free agents. Reese and Coughlin have said that they will try to bring Goff, who is still recovering from ACL surgery last year, back. But the Giants could use another veteran linebacker since they won’t know how Goff and Sintim will be returning from knee surgery. Also, depending on what happens with Osi Umenyiora's contract, the Giants may need Kiwanuka to play more defensive end. That remains to be seen.
Perry Fewell played three safeties -– Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant –- often to help cover at linebacker. Fewell still might do this next season even with Grant becoming an unrestricted free agent. Tyler Sash is waiting in the wings and could become the team’s third safety. And if Fewell wants to play three safeties again, he’ll go with two linebackers again as well.
What do you guys think the Giants should do at linebacker? Tell us below.