- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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At the risk of burning a valuable Wednesday breakfast link (and nobody likes burned breakfast links), I refer you this Tuesday afternoon to Ohm's latest installment of his position-by-position New York Giants analysis. This one is on linebackers, that perpetually vexing position at which the Giants always seem to be looking for answers. With Michael Boley already cut, Keith Rivers and Chase Blackburn set to be free agents and Mathias Kiwanuka potentially moving back up to the defensive line to replace free agent Osi Umenyiora, the Giants' linebacker corps could look at lot different in 2013:
Blackburn knows Perry Fewell’s defense perhaps better than anyone and Rivers, when healthy, can do some similar things to Boley. Jacquian Williams should be in line for a bigger role with Boley’s departure and could start. And Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich could be in store for more opportunities as well. The Giants could add another veteran linebacker in free agency and perhaps draft one as well.
Salary cap situation: The Giants cleared some cap space by releasing Boley. Blackburn and Rivers are free agents but the Giants could look into bringing either or both back for cheap. While the Giants could sign a veteran free agent linebacker, it might be a bit of a surprise if brass went after a high-priced free agent. And while the Giants could draft a linebacker in April, Jerry Reese usually uses his first-round picks on other areas of the defense, especially defensive line.
Ohm's obviously hit the nail on the head there at the end. The Giants don't prioritize linebacker, and it remains to be seen who from that Williams/Paysinger/Herzlich group that all came into the league together in 2011 will be a long-term contributor. Williams has shown the most, standing out in particular during the Super Bowl run last year, but he had injury problems in 2012. Herzlich didn't show much in short stints in relief of Blackburn in 2012, but the team retains high hopes for him. I wouldn't be surprised to see Blackburn return, and if they do move Kiwanuka back up to the line full-time they'll have more room for Rivers if they want him back. But as for potential free-agent or draft targets, your guess is as good as mine. I have to believe Reese and his staff are more focused on making sure the pass rush stays strong.