Mathias Kiwanuka admitted it on Wednesday -- he thought his NFL career might be over following his neck injury in 2010, which forced him to miss all but three games of the season.
"That was a very real possibility," Kiwanuka said, in his first comments to reporters at Giants training camp in East Rutherford, N.J. "And I think a lot of that played into my decision to come back (to the Giants). You're a fifth-year player, you're looking at the possible end of your career -- it puts things in perspective. I was blessed by God -- thank God I have the opportunity to come back and play."
Kiwanuka was off to a great start in 2010, with four sacks in the team's first three games. But then a bulging cervical disc in his neck knocked him out for the rest of the season. It was the second major injury of his career -- he also broke his left leg in Nov. 2007.
But Kiwanuka pronounced himself 100 percent healthy on Wednesday. "I feel real confident about where it's at, there's no reservation in terms of how it's gonna react once I get out there," Kiwanuka said. "It's something that's gonna be in the back of your head until you actually get out there and get that first hit. ... But after I get out there and get that first one, it's full steam ahead."
The Giants agreed to a new deal with Kiwanuka quickly after the NFL free agency period began, following the lifting of the lockout -- terms of the deal have not been disclosed. Kiwanuka also admitted that the injury adversely affected him, in terms of free agency. "The health was definitely a concern (of teams)," Kiwanuka said. "(But if) I go out here and I play a year and I'm healthy, the market will come back."
As for his decision to return to the Giants, Kiwanuka said going to another team was a real possibility: "It was definitely something that almost happened." But in the end, returning to the Giants made the most sense. "When you look at this team, there's a lot of great things that can happen here," Kiwanuka said. "Regardless of what position I'm playing, I know that I can compete, I know that I can bring intensity out there, get to the quarterback, whatever they ask me to do. So looking around at other options, this was a tough opportunity to pass up."
What position Kiwanuka will play this season depends in part on the outcome of defensive end Osi Umenyiora's contract dispute, and whether Umenyiora remains with the Giants, holds out or is traded to another team. Kiwanuka was a defensive end at Boston College, but the Giants have utilized Kiwanuka at both defensive end and linebacker in his NFL career.
If Umenyiora is not on the field for the Giants, Kiwanuka expects to play more at DE. "Yeah, most likely. That's the position that I came in the league playing, that's probably where I feel most comfortable," Kiwanuka said. "But I feel like things are going well, and regardless of whether he's here or not, I'll be able to move in and out of positions pretty smoothly."