New York Giants: Spencer Paysinger
Hey @DanGrazianoESPN could you give an update on how the LBs are doing? Kennard, Beason, McClain, Williams and any others worth mentioning?— Kevin Oakes (@kkkevinnn) August 13, 2014
So I asked to talk to some linebackers, and I got some decent stuff.
With starting middle linebacker Jon Beason still working his way back from a foot injury suffered in the spring, the most likely Week 1 starting lineup for the Giants at linebacker is Jameel McClain in the middle, Jacquian Williams on the weak side and rookie Devon Kennard on the strong side. Spencer Paysinger could overtake Williams on the weak side, but after years of using Williams as a weakside backer in nickel situations, the Giants' coaches now say they're ready to trust him on all three downs. Once Beason returns, the most likely result is that McClain moves back to the strong side, but it's not out of the question to think Kennard could hold him off. The rookie has been impressive.
So here are some thoughts from and/or about the three men likely to be the Giants' starting linebackers on Monday, Sept. 8 in Detroit.
It seems like a long time ago that Williams was one of the heroes of the Giants' NFC Championship Game victory over the 49ers in San Francisco, stripping the ball from return man Kyle Williams and setting up the game-winning possession in overtime. He missed six games the following season to injury and was a rotational player for the Giants in 2013. But he says he thinks back on that 2011-12 postseason for inspiration.
It has taken a while to go from fun, useful rookie to NFL starter, but Williams believes he's completed the journey and he knows what the difference is between now and then.
"Trust," Williams said. "Trust from the team, and not only the coaches, but the players. My teammates are trusting me to be in that role. They speak up for me more at times. And overall, my confidence. My personal confidence for the game, for the position. And experience."
Beason said he thinks Williams and Paysinger both have made big leaps from last season to this season.
"I really feel they're ready to contribute and take that big step to where they can be dominant linebackers in this league," Beason said. "Because they have all the intangibles, and they have the experience now, which is the most important thing. You can't expect a guy to go out there in his first couple of games starting, ever, and kill it. But last year they both made splash plays, and I think this year they're ready to be consistent."
The 174th overall pick of this year's draft -- one of two fifth-rounders the Giants had this year -- Kennard didn't seem likely to be a big-splash guy this summer. But goodness, has he been the talk of the defense since OTAs.
Beason said he thinks Kennard benefited from all of the coaching staff turnover and turmoil that happened during his time at USC. Recruited by Pete Carroll, he played most of his USC career for Lane Kiffin after Carroll left for the Seahawks, then had three different head coaches last year after the Kiffin thing fell apart and Ed Orgeron resigned before the bowl game because he didn't get the full-time job replacing him.
"I moved around a lot," Kennard said.
He has been a standup outside linebacker, a standup inside linebacker, a pass-rusher ... you name it. And being an overall student of defense has helped him get rise quickly since the draft.
"I ask a lot of questions, and I spend a lot of time in my playbook," Kennard said. "I try to understand as much as I can, and as more and more goes in, I try to keep it organized in my mind and constantly go over things so I can play as fast as I can when it's time to practice and play in games. It's a work in progress, but I'm working every day."
At this point, if something happened to McClain before Beason returned, Kennard would be the next guy they put in at middle linebacker. They already trust him with the on-field organizational responsibilities associated with that position.
"Jameel is a proven vet, very vocal, and he's going to help us out big time, especially at that Mike position, getting guys lined up," Beason said.
They didn't bring McClain out to talk to me, so that's about all I have on him. But his presence on the roster is a sign that the Giants have changed the way they look at this position. They went for cheap solutions for years. Williams, Paysinger and Mark Herzlich, a special-teams ace and backup linebacker, were all rookies in that same 2011 season. Of the three, Williams was the only one who was drafted, and they got him in the sixth round.
But after Beason took over as a leader on defense at a critical time last season, the Giants reconsidered their view of the value of spending resources on linebackers. They re-signed Beason, drafted Kennard and signed McClain, who provides a veteran presence they need on the field as long as Beason is on the shelf.
This position group might not be a clear strength of the team the way cornerback is. But gone are the days it stands out as a clear and damaging weakness (the way, say, tight end is). If nothing else, this year's Giants linebacker group is interesting, and offers reason to hope it might be fun.
- Cornerback Bennett Jackson, the team's sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame, could be the most serious one. He got his feet tangled up with those of wide receiver Corey Washington on a deep pass play and injured his ankle. The team sent him for X-rays, and coach Tom Coughlin said he hoped it was just a sprain. Washington also sat out the remainder of practice with a sore heel following that play.
- Defensive end Robert Ayers also injured his ankle during team drills and did not return, but that injury did not seem to be as worrisome as Jackson's.
- Left tackle Will Beatty left practice early, but the team said that was due to an illness, and nothing to do with the leg injury from which he's been working his way back since he broke his leg in Week 17 of the 2013 season.
- Defensive tackle Mike Patterson sat out practice with a shoulder injury.
- Guard John Jerry, who had been doing some first-team work lately at right guard, missed Thursday's practice entirely due to some soreness in his surgically repaired knee.
- Linebacker Spencer Paysinger sat out practice with a concussion. He has not practiced since Sunday.
- Wide receiver/kick returner Trindon Holliday missed another practice due to a hamstring injury.
- On the good news front, wide receiver Rueben Randle practiced in full two days after missing Tuesday's practice with a hamstring injury.
Projected starters: Jon Beason (inj.), Jameel McClain, Jacquian Williams
Projected backups: Spencer Paysinger, Mark Herzlich, Devon Kennard
Others competing for spots: Spencer Adkins, Justin Anderson, Dan Fox, Terrell Manning
Beason is hoping to return in time for Week 1 and resume his starting middle linebacker role. If he can't, McClain will move to the middle and either Paysinger or Kennard would start in his place on the strong side. Williams is the leading candidate to start on the weak side, though Paysinger could beat him out for that spot in camp. Even if that happens, the Giants likely would still use Williams on the weak side when they go to their nickel packages.
Herzlich hasn't contributed much as a linebacker, but he's a decent enough backup and his performance on special teams likely makes his spot on the roster safe. Kennard was a fifth-round pick this year and opened eyes in minicamp. He could move up the depth chart quickly. Among the others, Fox is somewhat interesting, but it's a tough road for anyone from that group to make a roster that's going to have to strain to carry six linebackers as is.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that middle linebacker Jon Beason does not make it back from his foot injury to play for the New York Giants in Week 1 in Detroit. If that is the case (as seems likely), then Jameel McClain is the front-runner to start at middle linebacker.
At this point, the starters on the outside would be Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, but rookie fifth-rounder Devon Kennard impressed coaches in the spring program and could be in the mix to start on the strong side. What's interesting to me is that linebackers coach Eric Hermann had a lot to say Thursday about the improvement Williams has shown as a weakside linebacker in the Giants' base defense. They already love him on the weak side in their nickel package due to his speed and coverage ability. But if they like him there in the base as well, Williams might be ahead of Paysinger to start there even once Beason returns and McClain moves back to the strong side. So to answer your question, I'd expect to see McClain in the middle, Williams on the weak side and either Paysinger or, if he has a big camp, Kennard on the strong side in Week 1.
Giants coaches like his progress. Quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf on Thursday praised Nassib's intelligence and his ability to pick up the new system but said he's still got to work on his accuracy and his timing. Which is understandable, given that he's still a young quarterback who's never played in the league. It's clear they view him as the No. 2 right now behind Eli Manning -- or that they're at least giving him every chance to beat out Curtis Painter for that spot in camp. But no, if Manning got hurt, at this point the Giants would not have honest confidence in Nassib or anyone else who might replace him.
Manning costs the Giants 17 percent of their salary cap. He's the player around whom their team is built. If they don't have him, they simply won't be a remotely competitive team. Even if Nassib comes quickly in camp and becomes a viable No. 2, there's no chance that, in 2014, he offers anything close to what Manning offers as a starting NFL quarterback. All the Giants want from Nassib is continued growth and development, and their hope is that he's a decent backup/emergency option this year and maybe more down the road.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I agree that the Giants' defensive line is questionable behind the starters, and that there's a chance it could be a bad defensive line. They desperately need Jason Pierre-Paul to stay healthy and dominate from the defensive end position, because honestly they're not going to get much pass rush from the other side at this point. Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are what they are, and they're not the kinds of defensive ends who are going to whip tackles regularly and pile up sacks. And Damontre Moore is still developing.
On the inside, you mention Cullen Jenkins, and I agree he's key because he's the one guy in there who's not a question mark. Coaches were raving this week about the development defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn have shown, and if so then that's a positive thing for them and for the Giants. But there's no way to know until they can practice in pads and play against other teams what they really have in there. To me, the Giants are hoping a lot of people -- namely, Hankins, Kuhn, Moore, Ayers and Kiwanuka -- outperform anything they've yet shown in the league in order to make them strong on the defensive line. It's not nuts to think one or two of them will, but... all of them?
@DanGrazianoESPN: The first-team offensive line in minicamp was, left to right: Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley, Justin Pugh. Which, no, is not good. They believe Chris Snee could play right guard if he had to right now, but he's working his way back from elbow and hip surgeries and they're taking it slowly with him. And they're also hoping Will Beatty is healthy enough to play left tackle in training camp ahead of Brown, who was signed as a backup. Rookie Weston Richburg is in a straight-up competition with Walton for the starting center spot. So it's possible that by Week 1 it's Beatty/Schwartz/Richburg/Snee/Pugh, which would look a lot better than what they ran out there this week. But as of now, that's your starting five.
Mosley's an interesting case. They like him and think his development has been hurt by injuries. But the fact that Snee and John Jerry (knee surgery) haven't been able to get on the field helped Mosley get a lot of first-team reps this spring. And that can only help him if they need to turn to him to play a starting role in camp, in the preseason or in the season.
Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the first weekend of summer.
McClain joined the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and was one of their starting linebackers from 2010 until the injury knocked him out of Baltimore's run to the Super Bowl XLVII title. He returned to start 10 games in 2013, but the Ravens cut him a couple of weeks ago for cap reasons. His best statistical season was 2011, when he had 84 tackles, a sack, two fumble recoveries, an interception and four pass breakups. Solid veteran who can start or rotate around situationally should someone like Williams or Paysinger show more next year than they have in years past.
The Giants are still looking for a cornerback, a wide receiver, a kick returner, a center, a tight end and probably a couple of reinforcements on the defensive line. But they appear to be all set at linebacker, for a change.
While he has not developed into a starter, Herzlich has been a useful player for the Giants. He's one of their best special-teams players and led the team with 14 special-teams tackles in 2013, and he's proven to be a useful reserve linebacker as well. Herzlich was a restricted free agent, so the Giants could have tendered him a contract and seen whether anyone else tried to sign him, but instead he's locked up for 2014.
Earlier this week, the Giants tendered restricted free-agent linebacker Spencer Paysinger, which means he's almost certain to be back in 2014, and they hosted recently released former Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain for a visit. McClain is a potential fallback at middle linebacker if they don't sign Beason, but they would prefer him as a strongside linebacker with Beason (or some better Beason replacement) in the middle. McClain has spoken to Buffalo and other teams as well.
The Giants have until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday to sign Beason if they want to keep him off the open market. While teams are allowed to start contacting the agents for other teams' free agents at noon ET on Saturday, Beason is representing himself. Therefore, the rules prohibit him from talking to any team but the Giants until the start of the new league year, which is 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Because McClain was released with time left on his contract, he is eligible to sign with teams prior to the opening of the new league year -- i.e., he doesn't have to wait until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. McClain visited with the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday and told reporters in Buffalo that he was visiting the Giants on Thursday:
“This is the first visit and then I go to the Giants,” said McClain. “I’ve got more scheduled, but I tell my agent to tell me the day before. I don’t want to be wrapping my mind around too many ideas. I’m more like a get the information and go guy.”
McClain turns 29 in July. The Ravens released him because doing so saves them $3.2 million against the salary cap this year and because they believed they have in-house replacements ready. He's an inside linebacker who's moved around in the Ravens' 3-4 defensive front, so he could potentially play the middle for the Giants if they don't bring back Beason or he could play one of the outside spots. He played only 10 games in 2013 as he was returning from a spinal cord injury, but he's fully healthy at this point and actively looking for work. He said he has other visits scheduled as well.
The Giants also tendered restricted free-agent linebacker Spencer Paysinger this week, ensuring that they would be able to hold onto him for another year.
Per fitness enthusiast Eb Samuel of the New York Daily News, the Giants have decided to put a right-of-first-refusal tender of $1.431 million on linebacker Spencer Paysinger. This allows the Giants to match any offer Paysinger might get on the open market and establishes what they'll pay him if he doesn't get any. The risk is that they forfeit the right to draft-pick compensation if they lose Paysinger to another team (since they'd be making the choice to do so), but Paysinger isn't likely to draw much interest. This basically allows the Giants to budget for a guy they'd be happy to start at one of their outside linebacker spots but aren't averse to replacing if they find better options.
Earlier in the week, the Giants decided not to tender fullback Henry Hynoski or center Jim Cordle. That doesn't mean those guys are gone; simply that they can be free agents if they so choose. The Giants like fullback John Conner, and would bring back Hynoski to compete with him in camp at a very low price, but they've decided they're OK if Hynoski wants to look elsewhere. Likewise, they don't hate Cordle, but as they work on rebuilding the interior of their offensive line, they recognize him as a replaceable backup piece.
The Giants' other restricted free agent is linebacker Mark Herzlich, who likely isn't a huge priority unless they fail to re-sign Jon Beason and can't find any other options on the market at middle linebacker. We all know the Giants don't spend big on linebacker, so if they fail to sign Beason, it's unlikely they'd spend big to replace him. They might decide to give Herzlich another shot and, if he doesn't work out, find someone during the season the way they got Beason for a seventh-round pick in early October last year. But I think they'll sign Beason and it'll be moot.
The news of the day: Linebackers coach Jim Hermann feels his group has improved since the start of the season. The addition of Jon Beason at middle linebacker is the clearest and biggest reason for this, but Hermann is also happy with what he's seen lately from Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams. ... The biggest problem area on the team has been and remains the offensive line, which coach Pat Flaherty acknowledges has been a challenge to juggle. ... And in case you missed it Thursday, I wrote this on the contrast between a typical NFL sideline rant and the manner in which the Giants' defensive players took their complaints and concerns to their coach some weeks ago.
Behind enemy lines: They still have to get through a Sunday game against the Eagles before they get the rested Giants in Week 10, but the Raiders have obviously been having some problems of their own, even in their victories.
Around the division: Will the Raiders team the Giants face on Nov. 10 be coming off a win or a loss? That likely depends on the performance of one Mr. Nick Foles, who is the quarterback of choice (or, more likely, of necessity) for the reeling Philadelphia Eagles this week.
Around the league: With the trade deadline over and a lot of fans unhappy their team didn't do anything, Jeff Chadiha looks at the biggest move of the trade season and writes that the Colts don't appear to have acquired the difference-making running back they thought they were getting in Trent Richardson.
The Giants made their position coaches available to the media Tuesday, during the team's bye week, meaning Herrmann had a chance to share his thoughts on his new starting middle linebacker.
"Obviously he's a Pro Bowl-caliber type guy and I think our guys like that in the room," Herrmann said. "It's different and new. He has a gregarious personality. He's very easy to get along with. You can tell why he's been a good leader."
But Beason's leadership at middle linebacker, said Herrmann, has been even more important.
"I've always been a firm believer that there has to be one voice on the field," Herrmann said. "Coaches are on the sideline, somebody has to be the voice on the field. When you have a guy like that, that one voice resonates to everyone on the field, and the results are you have 11 guys on the same page, which is good."
The Giants' linebacker corps had been heavily criticized this season, prior to Beason's arrival. It was a young, relatively inexperienced group. Mark Herzlich had failed to distinguish himself in the middle, and Keith Rivers hasn't done anything particularly noteworthy, either.
Herrmann said he has been impressed by Spencer Paysinger, however, the third-year pro in his first season as a full-time starter. Paysinger is fourth on the team with 39 tackles.
"I think Spencer has done a great job this year," Herrmann said. "He has developed into a good football player."
Herrmann also had praise for Jacquian Williams, who appears to be healthy at long last and made a key fumble recovery in last Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I think he's learning the nuances of the game, the nuances of coverage and covering people in man-to-man. That comes with experience," Herrmann said. "You need to learn how to cover a guy and different nuances of routes and where he needs to be. The more he does it, the better he is going to be."
Herrmann is well aware of the criticism directed at his unit, but thinks they've been better than people think.
"As a group, I think those guys have done a good job," Herrmann said. "In today's world, it's about wins and losses. You don't win and you lose, somebody’s going to take the criticism. It's just part of the business.
"The biggest thing I tell them is, 'Look, at the end of the day, can you walk off the field, look in the mirror, and say I played my best today?' If you do that, then you can keep doing that and get better each and every week. You'll eventually be successful."
Jacobs and Rogers also sat out Wednesday. Webster participated Wednesday on a limited basis.
Coach Tom Coughlin said Webster did not have a setback. "He's an every-other-day kind of a guy," Coughlin said.
Jacobs did stretch with the team at the beginning of practice, while reporters were allowed to be present. "Plus he did some running on the side," Coughlin said, "so we'll see when we get in there what the deal is."
On the bright side, linebacker Spencer Paysinger (ankle) practiced on a limited basis Thursday, after sitting out Wednesday.
Cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (knee) and Jayron Hosley (hamstring), and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) were also limited Thursday.
NEW ADDITION: Coughlin confirmed that the Giants have added offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds to the roster, replacing Davis Baas, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. Reynolds spent a few days with the team earlier this month before being cut.
"I like to play that way -- physical, up on the line, where the officials can see everything that's going on," Amukamara said Tuesday. "It's a fight all the way down the field, but I know I can play that way. And I'd rather play against guys like that than a guy like DeSean Jackson, who's just so fast it's amazing."
"He's the fastest receiver I've ever seen, by far," Amukamara said. "I just remember watching when I was in college -- and nobody around here will talk about this -- but that punt return against the Giants [in 2010]. And I remember wondering, 'How fast must he look on the field?,' and it's unbelievable."
Marshall has 31 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. Jeffrey caught 10 passes for a Bears-record 218 yards in Sunday's loss to the Saints. It's unclear how the Giants will deploy their cornerbacks against the pair, but Amukamara's a good bet to shadow Marshall, the veteran and the tougher of the two. The Giants' other starting cornerback, Corey Webster, is likely to miss a fourth straight game with a groin injury, and Trumaine McBride is likely to replace him.
Beason to be involved: Linebacker Jon Beason didn't have a chance to play defense in Sunday's game, since the Giants had acquired him in a trade with the Panthers just 48 hours before kickoff. But defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said Beason would definitely be a factor at the middle linebacker spot Thursday in Chicago.
The Giants have struggled at the middle linebacker position this year. Free-agent signee Dan Connor is on injured reserve. Mark Herzlich hasn't played as well as they'd hoped. And Allen Bradford didn't pick things up as quickly as they thought he might when they signed him. So enter Beason, who was miscast as an outside linebacker in Carolina (and, ironically, replaced by former Giant Chase Blackburn) but has middle linebacker experience at a high level. If he's over his knee issues of the past few years, he could be a find.
"I'm in the playbook heavy," Beason said. "It's different terminology, but I've played football in this league for a long time, so I feel pretty comfortable about it."
Outside linebacker Spencer Paysinger has been the one making the calls on the defense, which is usually the middle linebacker's job. Fewell and Beason both said they'd like Beason to take over some of those responsibilities, but that's not likely to happen right away this week.
New secondary alignment: Terrell Thomas served as the Giants' nickel cornerback for the first four games of the season but didn't play any defensive snaps Sunday, as Will Hill returned from suspension and played safety while safety Antrel Rolle moved up to play Thomas' slot position. Thomas said he believed that would change back, and that the arrangement Sunday was part of the maintenance plan for his surgically repaired knee, since the Giants are in a stretch of three games in 12 days. But Fewell indicated that the look Thursday would be similar to Sunday's.
"We try to strive for consistency as much as we can," Fewell said.
The Giants were high on Hill in the preseason and clearly had a plan for what they wanted to do when he returned from his four-game drug suspension.
Practice squad: The Giants signed cornerback Junior Mertile and linebacker Darin Drakeford to their practice squad. One of those spots came open last week when they promoted cornerback Charles James to the active roster, the other when the Buffalo Bills signed linebacker Ty Powell away.
The news of the day: I have written this before and will write it again, but especially considering they once claimed their mantra to be "Talk is cheap, play the game," there is no team that talks more than the New York Giants talk. The latest is Antrel Rolle's paid Tuesday radio appearance, in which he said this week that not everyone in the locker room believes the Giants can win. This one day after Rolle said he believed they could go 12-0 the rest of the way. I'm sure he'll have something interesting, if not useful, to say today. Obviously, there are people in the Giants' locker room who don't believe they can win. The Giants are 9-11 since the start of last season and 3-9 in their last 12 games. If you weren't on the 2011 team, what first-hand evidence do you have that your Giants team is any good? Personally, if I were a Giants fan, I'd be more interested to hear what Rolle's plan is for how to fix the thing than listening to him moan about how not everyone in the room was on the team two years ago. The front office is still tinkering, signing center/guard Dallas Reynolds because of their injuries at center and guard and releasing running back Da'Rel Scott because what's it matter whether you have one, two, three or four running backs when you can't block for any of them anyway?
Behind enemy lines: The single best thing the Giants have going for them this week is that their opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, have all kinds of problems as well. The Eagles have allowed the most yards of any team and the second-most points (behind only your New York Football Giants) and are easily the worst team the Giants will have faced this season. The problem lies in perspective, however. The lesser teams on the Giants' upcoming schedule have the right to view the Giants game as their chance to get a win as well. Phil Sheridan points out that the Eagles, who came in at No. 27 in our latest Power Rankings, face teams ranked lower than they are in three of their next four games, including Sunday's.
Around the division: The biggest thing that's held the Cowboys back in recent years has been offensive line play, and it was one of their big questions coming into this season as well. But the line has exceeded expectations in Dallas, and it's the kind of thing that makes me believe they're still the team that ends up taking control of the NFC East and running away from the rest of the division's sad mediocrity before it's all said and done.
Around the league: Pro Football Focus ranks its top five pass-rushing teams in the NFL so far this year. The Kansas City Chiefs, who just whipped the Giants 31-7, are tops on the list. The Seahawks and the Lions, who are on the Giants' December schedule, rank second and third, so at least the Giants have a couple of months to get their act together before they see them. The Giants and their league-low four sacks are, of course, not on this list. And as much as you're hearing about how well the defense is playing and the offense is letting them down ... four sacks. Four. Including the gift the scorer gave Spencer Paysinger on his tackle of Alex Smith at the line of scrimmage Sunday. If the Giants' pass rush isn't coming back, nothing's getting better.
On a related note: Earlier in the third quarter, the Giants had a third-and-1 at their own 45 and called a play on which running back David Wilson bounced out to the right behind three tight ends. But none of the tight ends could make a single block to free Wilson, who was tackled for no gain, and the Giants had to punt then too. Just another example of an offense that has no reason to feel it can get a yard when it needs to get one. The Giants were 1-for-14 on third downs.
Looks like a misprint, but isn't: The official stat sheet shows the Giants 0-for-0 on red zone attempts, and it's true. They didn't run a single play that began inside the Chiefs' 20-yard line. Other than Cruz's 69-yard touchdown catch, the closest they got to the end zone all day was the 26, from which Josh Brown missed a field goal at the end of the first half. Only eight of the Giants' 61 offensive snaps came in Kansas City territory.
How about the defense? The Giants did force three turnovers from a Chiefs team that had none in the first three weeks. But where's the pressure? Their one "sack" was a Spencer Paysinger tackle of Alex Smith at the line of scrimmage on a Smith scramble. They hit Smith just three times all game. Jason Pierre-Paul has one sack in his last 11 games. When the Giants don't pressure the quarterback -- and it's been quite some time -- they have a poor defense.