Giants to play Kiwanuka at linebacker

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So if you were wondering whether the New York Giants planned to sign somebody to help out at linebacker, your answer might be that they already did. Linebackers coach Jim Hermann spoke after this morning's walk-through of Mathias Kiwanuka, who was in the defensive end rotation last season but will apparently play linebacker on first and second downs in 2011.

"Yup, we re-signed him and he's going to play linebacker," Hermann said. "He's got some adjusting to do because he's been away from it, but when he came here at first he played there some. He's such a physical guy. That's what I love about him. He brings a physical part to the game. Against the run, he'll be a hard guy to move out of the hole."

Hermann said "all bets are off" on third downs, where the Giants will use Kiwanuka wherever they believe he's in the best position to pressure the quarterback. But in base packages, it appears as though the main contributors at defensive end will be Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and, assuming he gets his contract situation worked out, Osi Umenyiora.

Hermann also said the decision on Kiwanuka had nothing to do with dissatisfaction with Clint Sintim, who would seem to have been the likely outside linebacker starter opposite Michael Boley with Jonathan Goff manning the middle. Hermann said he believed the move would give the Giants quality depth and the ability to put a quality starter on the field if one of the linebackers who started the game got injured.

"Really, to me, they're all interchangeable," Hermann said. "They should be able to play all the positions."

The Giants have had enough trouble, due to cap concerns, signing their own free agents. They were able to bring back Kiwanuka and running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but they lost Kevin Boss and Barry Cofield and are still trying to re-sign receiver Steve Smith. So it was always unlikely that they could hit the free-agent linebacker market and address their biggest need on the defensive side of the ball. Kiwanuka helps because of his athleticism and versatility, and if that leaves them short on depth at defensive end, then that's the way the salary cap says it has to be. As they're doing on the offensive line with Will Beatty as the starting left tackle, they'll trust that they've developed Pierre-Paul to the point where he can be a meaningful contributor on the defensive line. When you can't go outside the organization to find improvements, you have to hope you can find them on your own roster. The Giants believe they've drafted, coached and developed well enough over the past few years that their roster will provide it.