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Tuesday, September 6, 2011
What will the Giants do in the middle now?

By Ohm Youngmisuk


Another week, another Giant goes down with a season-ending injury.

On the same day that Clint Sintim underwent surgery on his torn ACL and ruptured patellar tendon, the Giants learned they lost Jonathan Goff for the season.

Goff was entering his second season as the starting middle linebacker and had a solid preseason. He was feeling more comfortable in his role and was looking strong against the run.

While he was still trying to fill the gaping void in the middle left behind by Antonio Pierce, Goff was going to be better this year just by having another year of experience under his belt.

Now the Giants have less than a week to prepare for the season opener against the Redskins without their middle linebacker and the man who relayed the defensive calls from Perry Fewell.

• So what now? The Giants were taking a hard look at former Big Blue linebacker Kawika Mitchell and could sign him shortly if he’s healthy. Mitchell does have some middle linebacker experience. He started all of 2005 in the middle for the Chiefs. He was very popular in the Giants locker room during his one-year stint in the 2007 Super Bowl season with New York. And he’s familiar with Fewell, who was his defensive coordinator in Buffalo for two years. Fewell also started Mitchell at middle linebacker for a game in 2009 before he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Mitchell has played in just six games over the last two years.

The Giants do have some options out there. They just released Phillip Dillard on Saturday. Dillard, the team’s fourth-round pick from a year ago, was the second-team middle linebacker throughout camp.

Keith Bulluck, who competed with Goff at middle linebacker during training camp last year, remains a free agent. Bulluck knows the system. So does Chase Blackburn. But the former Giants linebacker is more of a special teams' ace who would provide depth and be a mentor for the rookie linebackers.

There’s also former Giant Dhani Jones, who had 125 tackles last year for the Bengals and has had 113 or more tackles in the last three years for the Bengals.

And there’s also the fan favorite, Lofa Tatupu, who remains unsigned after parting ways with Seattle.

It’s likely that the Giants will want to sign a veteran for the minimum and at this point in the season, most veterans may be open to doing that.

• But even if the Giants sign a veteran linebacker, they only have a few days before the season opener on Sunday against the Redskins. Fewell might have to start rookie Greg Jones. The sixth-round pick out Michigan State has impressed the team in the preseason. But without an entire offseason to prepare with the coaching staff due to the lockout, Jones might be overwhelmed seeing a lot of snaps in the middle. He worked as the third-team middle linebacker in camp. Ideally, the Giants would want a veteran to man the middle and groom Jones for the future. But they might not have any choice but to play Jones on running downs in the middle this Sunday. Jones is mature and has good instincts against the run. Fewell will certainly try to put him in the best situations to succeed.

• Rookie Mark Herzlich has seen some snaps at middle linebacker in camp with the third team as well but he’s still regaining his old form from his battle with bone cancer and, like Jones, still is learning the pro game. Herzlich’s impact will come in the future at linebacker. His present impact likely will be felt on special teams.

• Fewell may have to rely a lot more on three safeties while playing two linebackers. He had been doing that a bit in the preseason with Antrel Rolle moving to cover the slot receiver and Deon Grant joining Kenny Phillips at safety while Goff and Michael Boley were at linebacker. In those packages, Fewell could move Mathias Kiwanuka to defensive end on passing situations. But without Goff, we'll have to see what Fewell does.

Fewell has to install his defense on Wednesday and has three days of practice to teach his team how to adjust with a new middle linebacker. Stay tuned.