Keith Bulluck says he's ready already

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Keith Bulluck has had only a handful of practices and limited reps with the New York Giants' second-team defense as he makes his way back from ACL surgery.

But the veteran middle linebacker is beaming with confidence and already has pronounced his surgically repaired left knee ready for a game. And Bulluck says it will be only a matter of time before he takes over as the starter.

"I'm very surprised of where I am at right now just because you hear all the horror stories of injuries and when people come back," Bulluck said. "It is scary how good it feels. I don't have pain. I'm inches away from making plays that I normally make but I'm only seven months and two weeks out of surgery so ... I know I'm only going to keep getting better."

Bulluck may be overly optimistic but he says that if the Giants played a game today, he'd be ready to go.

Of course, Bulluck still not only has to strengthen his knee and leg but he must learn Perry Fewell's system after spending a decade in Tennessee. Also, he has to technically climb up the depth chart and overtake Jonathan Goff, who wants to do more than just keep the middle warm for Bulluck.

The personable Bulluck was asked if he would be worried about holding on to the starting job if he were Goff.

"Yeah, I would definitely be looking over my shoulder," Bulluck said. "But he shouldn't; I'm going to help him out regardless of the situation."

Bulluck has practiced just once a day while the team brings him along slowly during his recovery from knee surgery. Bulluck has seen the majority of his reps with the second team while Goff has taken the first-team snaps the entire offseason and training camp.

It's been an adjustment for Bulluck to not only practice on a limited basis but work with the second team.

"It might get frustrating at times because I don't get as many reps but that is when the mental reps come in," Bulluck said. "I guess I have been training a long time for this. I played in 127 straight football games. I missed two because of the knee last year. I'm back out here and I have nothing to lose."

The Giants had nothing to lose when they signed Bulluck to a one-year deal worth up to $2.5 million at the end of last month. At best, Bulluck will fill the void left behind by Antonio Pierce. Pierce not only was the heart of the Giants' defense but he knew every intimate detail of the NFC East, having played for the Redskins and Giants for nine seasons.

Bulluck has to not only learn a new defense and fit in but he'll have to make the calls and put the Giants' defense in the right situation each play.

Head coach Tom Coughlin says his new linebacker has put in a lot of time in the study room already.

"He's a serious guy," Coughlin said last week. "He's a no-nonsense guy. I like that about him. I think that bodes well with that group [of young linebackers]. I think that guys will sit up and take notice of the way he studies and prepares. He was on the field very minimal and yet he was moving the defense, getting everybody lined up, which I thought was pretty impressive."

Bulluck, 33, has more experience than the Giants' unproven middle linebackers in camp and is incredibly motivated to prove to doubters and even his old team that he is anything but past his prime.

"I've been rebuilt from the top to the bottom starting when I had my surgery Dec. 30 to this point," said Bulluck, who had 108 or more tackles in six of the past eight seasons. "I'm a totally different football player than I was at Tennessee. The player that I will be for the New York Giants may resemble the player in Tennessee but it will be better."

One thing that will make Bulluck look a bit like the player he was in Tennessee is the fact that he will wear his old familiar 53. Bulluck said he didn't negotiate a price with middle linebacker Phillip Dillard to get that number but he promised to take care of the rookie, who switched to 49 upon Bulluck's arrival.

"I don't know how much of a choice he had in that but he will be compensated," Bulluck said. "We practice fashion. So most rookies don't know how to dress so I will hook him up with a suit or so."

But Bulluck isn't just here to teach the rookies and young linebackers how to play and look like a pro. He wants to show everyone that his knee is fine and that he will be just as good as he was before the surgery.

"Watching practice I might be one of the most physical people out there," said Bulluck, who has collided with running backs despite the practices being noncontact sessions. "I'm not holding back anything. Most athletes fear blowing a knee, it is one of the most serious injuries. I've experienced that and I've had people write me off for the past six, seven months. If you look at my career I am nothing but one of the top at my position.

"I need to prove how good of a football player I've been the last 10 years."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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