ALBANY, N.Y. -- His classes in anthropology at the University of Virginia were difficult, but they may have prepared New York Giants linebacker Clint Sintim for what was to come. In his two seasons since the Giants drafted him in the second round, Sintim has had to learn a position in two separate schemes.
From playing a 3-4 defense in college to contributing as a linebacker and defensive end in his rookie season, now Sintim is mastering the keys for strongside linebacker so that he can win a starting spot on a traditionally stingy defense.
"I'm trying to earn my keep," he says.
Linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said Sintim has been slowly coming around to understanding the role he and first-year defensive coordinator Perry Fewell need him to play if he wants to start.
"Clint's a young man who a year ago was the first time he's ever played back off the ball and looking into the backfield for the keys and reads, and it was foreign to him," Herrmann said. "I feel like so far this camp, that has improved every day. To me that was our biggest thing. When he and I sat down I said, 'This is where you need to improve,' and he's done a good job with that."
When asked if Sintim was having a quiet camp, Herrmann said that wasn't the case.
"Not really," Herrmann said. "If you really watch the film, and sometimes you don't see because we don't tackle to the ground, but he's done some good things back there."
Sintim knows what is at stake: A 3-8 slide to kill a 5-0 start in the 2009 season is not something the organization wants to repeat.
"You'd have to be oblivious to come out here and not to know the type of players they've had here," Sintim said. "The first one that comes to mind is [Lawrence Taylor]. You know about the history and the type of defense guys used to play. So last year was an off year, not only for myself but for the defense and the team as a whole, but you've got new guys in here, new blood, and everyone is excited right now to make things right. So hopefully I can be a part of that."
Sintim is both calm and understated, much like the organization he plays for. But he has a curious mind, and part of it stems from his background. Sintim grew up in northern Virginia but has a foot in Africa, where his parents were born. It's what sparked his idea to major in anthropology.
"My father is from Ghana and my mother is from Ghana," Sintim said. "I knew that culture and I was born in America so I knew that culture and the idea of culture kind of intrigued me, so I jumped into it my first year."
He admits that having a starting spot in his grasp is both something he wants and something that at times can be intimidating. There is a lot to learn.
"Some days, depending on the practice, I feel more comfortable," Sintim said. "Other days when I don't have as good of a practice I feel like I'm still learning and still have to get it right, but fortunately enough for me, I've got a lot of guys around me who are very supportive."
One of those players is Keith Bulluck, a newcomer to the Giants going into his 11th NFL season. The former Titan said he has talked to Sintim about his experiences.
"He was a 3-4 linebacker in college," Bulluck said, "and now he's making a transition to standing up and having to learn all the different reads. I'm trying to give him some pointers that can help him be better and more efficient at what he's doing because he has the talent and the size and the football know-how. It's almost like learning a new position."
Giants linebacker Michael Boley agreed that Sintim has the potential to be an impact player.
"I think that he's done real good from the start of this offseason until now," Boley said. "Just as far as his learning process the way he approaches the game I think he's come a long way from last year."
And Sintim just might have the right combination of smarts and football savvy to win the job.