Giants must go on offensive in draft

It might be tempting for Jerry Reese to go defense with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
After all, the New York Giants have gone for defense with their first pick in seven of the last 10 drafts, including their second-round selection of cornerback Corey Webster in 2005, when they didn't have a first-round pick.

Defense is certainly the Giants' identity. But in 2011, it might be time for Reese to think offensively. Along with linebacker and special teams, the GM's biggest area of need is on the offensive line. Though the O-line exceeded expectations last season despite being ravaged by injuries, the Giants need reinforcements.

Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty worked his magic and somehow got the unit to shine despite starting six different combinations due to injuries.

Center Shaun O'Hara, guard Rich Seubert and backup center Adam Koets are all rebounding from surgeries. Shawn Andrews dealt with back issues and David Diehl had a hamstring injury last season.

But what worries coach Tom Coughlin the most entering the draft is the center position. O'Hara, Seubert and Koets are the top three centers on the depth chart and Coughlin made it no secret at the NFL scouting combine that he was concerned.

O'Hara, who has undergone two procedures this offseason already to repair his foot and ankle, says he has been told he will be ready for training camp and the season opener. Koets is also expected to be ready for the season after tearing his ACL last year.

Seubert, though, is coming off surgery to repair his kneecap and ligament damage and has a long road of rehab ahead of him. While Seubert is a warrior who has overcome serious injuries before, the gritty offensive lineman -- who was called the team's MVP by Reese -- may not be ready for camp.

With free agency likely coming after the draft (whenever the NFL lockout is resolved), Reese may have to address some of his concerns through the draft. And with several first-round offensive line prospects expected to be available around 19 and no real playmaking linebackers expected at that point, Reese may draft an offensive player in the first round for only the second time in the last six years.

The last time the Giants drafted an offensive lineman in the first round was in 1999, when they took Notre Dame tackle Luke Petitgout with the 19th overall pick.

Over a decade later, the Giants are looking hard at offensive lineman with their 19th pick again, having met with Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey and Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo, among others.

O'Hara expects to be the starting center this season. But he understands why Reese would want to look for an interior lineman.

"If I'm running the team, I look at it that I don't have a healthy center if we do have OTAs or minicamp," O'Hara said last month. "The only center that we have that can snap right now is Jerry Palmieri, our strength coach. And he does it for seven-on-seven. They haven't expressed any concern to me about me being ready for the season."

"Eventually they are going to draft somebody," he added.

Of course, the Giants may not take a center. They could go for a tackle like Castonzo or USC's Tyron Smith, if he were to fall to 19, and let the rookie compete with Diehl, William Beatty and possibly Andrews (if the Giants decide to pay Andrews a $3.5 million roster bonus) at left tackle. Diehl could slide to left guard while Seubert recovers and O'Hara or Koets can play center, depending on who is healthy first.

"Last year it showed with all the injuries and guys coming off of injuries, we are really going to need some guys to step in and help out and play different roles for us," Diehl said late last month. "I just know right now physically and mentally, I am 100 percent."

Another potential option could be Alabama running back Mark Ingram. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner could slip to 19 and with Ahmad Bradshaw's contract up, the Giants could take a look at adding another running back. While Bradshaw wants to remain a Giant, Reese could protect himself for the present and future by adding another running back. Financially, the Giants might not be able to pay both Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, who is set to earn $4.65 million in 2011 and $4.9 million in 2012.

If Ingram's past knee injury is too much of a red flag for the Giants, they could go for a running back later in the draft, having unearthed Bradshaw in the seventh round in 2007.

The Giants can use another explosive offensive player with speed who might also be able to help on special teams. Elsewhere on offense, the Giants could look for a tight end with Kevin Boss' contract expiring.

Last season, Reese used just one of his seven picks on an offensive player, taking guard Mitch Petrus in the fifth round. Reese will likely use more picks on offense this season, perhaps starting with his first pick.

"The one thing I know Jerry Reese will do when it comes time for the draft," O'Hara said, "whatever the best player available at that time, that is who he is going to pick."