Is Phillip Dillard a viable candidate to start at middle linebacker?
Something strange has taken place since the New York Giants' first rookie minicamp a couple weeks ago. It's almost like we're assuming that Phillip Dillard, a fourth-round pick out of Nebraska, should be the starter at middle linebacker. So does that say more about the team's shaky status at that position or Dillard's upside?
Antonio Pierce is gone because of injuries and declining play. But the Giants certainly will miss his leadership at middle linebacker. It's the job of new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to identify someone who's not afraid to be vocal while getting the front seven in the right spots. The good news for Fewell is that rookie linebackers have flourished as starters over the last few years in the league. I think of the impact DeMeco Ryans had as a rookie with the Texans. And you immediately knew that Patrick Willis would be Pro Bowler when he stepped on the field for the 49ers.
Dillard has a long way to go, but there are signs that he has the type of ability to take over the position. And honestly, I don't think Jonathan Goff, Bryan Kehl and Gerris Wilkinson are viable alternatives. I'm not sure there's a fourth-round pick in the league who faces more pressure than Dillard. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com caught up with Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher to ask him about rookies in the starting lineup. Fletcher played for Fewell with the Bills, so he knows what the defensive coordinator's trying to accomplish.
"If the rookie comes in and is a great talent and they can live with the growing pains that come with the rookie, and that rookie learns from his mistakes and doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, he can excel in that defense,” said Fletcher.