EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- Much of the attention surrounding the New York Giants’ offseason moves centered around losing Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs.
Keith Rivers, though, hopes that people will be talking about his addition to the Giants' defense by the end of this season.
The Giants didn’t make any huge offseason moves but they hope they upgraded at linebacker by adding Rivers, the former top-10 pick out of USC in 2008. The Giants traded a fifth-round pick to the Bengals for the oft-injured Rivers and if the linebacker lives up to his draft pedigree, the Giants will have landed a steal.
“Uh yeah, I was the ninth pick in the draft,” Rivers said when asked about playing to his potential. “[Play] anywhere near that and that [trade] is beyond a steal. It’s armed robbery.”
The Giants like Rivers’ potential, which has been slowed by injuries. He missed all of last season with a wrist injury that required surgery. He has been hindered in the past by a broken jaw, a calf injury and plantar fasciitis as well.
Now he is ready to prove what he can do when healthy.
“For me it is more about proving to myself I am who I was and nothing has changed,” Rivers said. “I want to prove to myself, ‘hey, I have been hurt, I want to come back.’ And whenever you get hurt, there is always a little bit of, ‘will I come back the same way?’”
Besides rebounding from injuries, Rivers also has to learn a new defensive scheme. The Giants currently have Rivers working with the second team behind Chase Blackburn, Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka. Perry Fewell said he wants to see what Rivers can do and is tinkering with the idea of using Rivers some at middle linebacker in practices as well.
“He’s still a work in progress from a mental standpoint,” the defensive coordinator said late last month. “But he is an athletic guy. He can move, he can flip his hip. I want to push it quicker. He’s playing the WILL linebacker for us. At some point in time, he’ll play some MIKE linebacker for us.”
“It’s how much can he digest and how much he can execute for us at this point in time,” Fewell added. “At some point in time, we’re going to move him around a little bit more.”
Rivers had 77 and 72 tackles in 2010 and 2009 respectively. The Giants think Rivers, 26, still has plenty left in him.
After using three safeties for much of the last two seasons, Fewell now has a deep unit of linebackers to utilize and he could play three linebackers much more this season.
After the starting trio of Blackburn, Boley and Kiwanuka, Fewell has Rivers, Jacquian Williams, Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones, Spencer Paysinger and undrafted rookie free agent Jake Muasau among those at linebacker.
“We have a ton of linebackers and everybody can play,” Rivers said. “It is thick trees out there so you definitely got to cut through it if you want to get onto the field.”
Rivers played some middle linebacker in high school and a little in college. Otherwise, he mostly has been an outside linebacker. Thus far the Giants have used him as an outside linebacker for the majority of time.
Fewell said he has to remind himself not to throw too much at Rivers.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Fewell said about Rivers’ pedigree and potential. “I want him to have a little flexibility, saying, ‘I’ve learned this and I have to put it all together when I get to training camp.’ [But] I have to think about how to approach that and how to do that so I don’t shatter his confidence.”
Rivers, though, is motivated to not only prove what he can do but to also hold up his end of the bargain for the defending world champs.
“It is a situation when you have been hurt, you always want to show people what they have been missing,” he said. “So you are excited to get out there and prove a lot of things to myself.”