NFC East: Keith Rivers

Giants' defense stays hot

November, 10, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Three straight wins are nice, no matter what they look like, but the New York Giants' special teams are still a trash fire and Eli Manning doesn't look right at all. The Giants' defense, however ... they may have a little something going there.

They finally gave up a touchdown on defense Sunday after 10 quarters without allowing one, but even that has to come with an asterisk, since it was on an Oakland Raiders "drive" that started on the five-yard line after Jerrell Jernigan fumbled the opening kickoff. The other touchdown the Raiders scored was on an interception return, and the next time they got near the goal line, the Giants kept them out of the end zone. At the tail end of a long second-half-opening drive, faced with a first-and-goal from the one-yard line, the Giants held and forced the Raiders to settle for a field goal.

"We always talk about, give us a yard, and it's our job to make sure they don't score," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "Today we had opportunities to prevent scores, and we did a good job of it."

A touchdown at that point, more than halfway through the third quarter, would have put the Raiders up 24-14 and left the Giants still reeling from Tracy Porter's return of Manning's interception at the end of the first half. Instead, it was only 20-14, and two possessions later Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas intercepted Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor and returned that one to the five. The Giants punched it in three plays later to take a 21-20 lead they would not relinquish.

"We started talking about it at halftime: Who's going to be the guy to make the play?" linebacker Jon Beason said. "We knew it was going to be somebody. We were determined."

They're also a lot more nimble and flexible on defense than they were earlier in the year. Beason's presence, Will Hill at safety and Thomas' remarkable recovery from his third ACL surgery have enabled the Giants to do much more on defense. There were plays Sunday on which safety Antrel Rolle rotated into the middle linebacker position while Beason rolled out to take on a guard or a tackle. The Thomas interception, they all said, was on a play he intercepted in practice earlier in the week. They rotate "spies" on the speedy Pryor in their linebacker corps, with Keith Rivers making an impact for the first time this year. Jason Pierre-Paul got a sack for just the second time in 16 games.

The Giants are clicking on defense right now, and while one must wonder how much the substandard lineup of opposing quarterbacks (Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley and Pryor) has factored into the three-game winning streak, they can only play the schedule they have, and they're doing a fine job with it.

"Our defense rose up in the second half," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Goal-line stand, that was huge. On offense, when we didn't get in, we kicked a field goal and we were fortunate enough because of field position and our defense to be able to hang in there and win the game."

Onward to next Sunday, and a home game against the Packers and third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien. No reason to think the defense can't play another good one.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jon Beason has already received lots of praise for the impact he's made since joining the New York Giants, but linebackers coach Jim Herrmann got to join the chorus this week.

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."

[+] EnlargeJon Beason
AP Photo/Evan PinkusJon Beason has quickly come in and established himself as a leader on the Giants' defense.
The Carolina Panthers, after benching Beason in favor of former Giant Chase Blackburn, elected to trade Beason to the Giants back on Oct. 4 for a late-round draft pick. He's quickly made a big impact with Big Blue, leading the team in tackles in two of the past three games.

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."

Injury report: Rolle tweaks groin

September, 13, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Antrel Rolle was a surprise addition to the injury report after tweaking his groin Thursday in practice.

Despite being listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Rolle will play Sunday barring a setback. Tom Coughlin said Rolle experienced some soreness in his groin and did not practice Friday as a precautionary measure.

"They kind of shut me down and told me no," Rolle said of missing practice Friday. "Sit down and don’t do anything. I'll be all right, be fine, just a little more treatment and everything should be OK. ... I'll play come Sunday."

Cornerback Prince Amukamara, who was cleared from his concussion and practiced Friday, is also listed as questionable. Coughlin expects the corner to play Sunday barring a setback as well.

The Giants will also welcome back starting center David Baas, who will make his season debut after injuring his left MCL in the second preseason game against the Colts.

Backup running back Da'Rel Scott (knee) is probable and will be available Sunday. Rookie defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder) is listed as questionable. Linebacker Dan Connor (IR/neck), tackle David Diehl (thumb) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) are out.

Connor explanation: Coughlin said Connor was placed on injured reserve late Thursday after the middle linebacker underwent a series of tests on his neck. Coughlin said there was no time frame given for when Connor would have been ready to play again.

"If we are going to be a short a linebacker, we have to do something," Coughlin said. "So how we choose to maneuver within your 53[-man roster] and that is basically where the decision came from."

The Giants have Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger, Keith Rivers, Jacquian Williams and newly signed Allen Bradford at linebacker on the roster.

Wilson update: David Wilson is healthy but was plagued by fumbles against the Cowboys. Coughlin said Wilson did his job in practice this week as far as ball security and said there's a chance Wilson might be used on kickoffs again as the returner. Wilson had 1,533 return yards and a return touchdown last season.

"It's always a possibility," Coughlin said when asked if Wilson might return some kickoffs Sunday.

Coughlin would not say how many snaps Brandon Jacobs might get at running back.


LB Dan Connor (neck/IR)
T David Diehl (thumb/did not practice)
TE Adrien Robinson (foot/did not practice)

CB Prince Amukamara (concussion/full practice)
DE Damontre Moore (shoulder/limited practice)
S Antrel Rolle (groin/did not practice)

C David Baas (knee/full practice)
RB Da’Rel Scott (knee/full practice)

Scouting Giants LBs with Kiwanuka

August, 20, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Oh yes, Mathias Kiwanuka remembers Mark Herzlich from when Herzlich played in college. Herzlich played at Boston College, Kiwanuka's alma mater, and wore No. 94, Kiwanuka's number, and so Kiwanuka was watching him closely as he blossomed into one of the most fearsome defensive players in the college game before being diagnosed with cancer.

"I remember watching and just thinking, 'That's it,'" Kiwanuka said after New York Giants practice Friday. "'They're going to retire No. 94 at Boston College, but it's not going to be for me.'"

The two are now Giants teammates. And while Kiwanuka is going to play defensive end this year, he spent the past two years as a linebacker, in the meeting room with many of the linebackers who are getting attention this summer for being ... well, not very exciting. The Giants' linebacker crew is something of a mishmash of undrafteds, underdrafteds and retreads out of which the team is hoping to find something reliable. But while the group may not look like anything special from the outside, there are things about each player that the team likes. So I asked Kiwanuka to break down some of the guys with whom he spent so much time the past couple of years, starting with his fellow Boston College Eagle.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Paysinger, Keith Rivers and Mark Herzlich
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsWith Spencer Paysinger, Keith Rivers and Mark Herzlich at LB, teammate Mathias Kiwanuka says the Giants' defense is high on potential.

"He's a very cerebral player, and I hate to say that about somebody, because then it sounds like maybe he's not as good of an athlete. But I went to BC and he wore 94, so I was tuned in the second he stepped on the field. He's every bit as good of an athlete as you're going to find on the field. The difference is that he has that middle linebacker mentality, meaning that when he goes in to study, he studies the entire offense and he studies what our defenses are and where we can be hurt, so he knows when he walks out there what the calls are and what the checks are going to be before he even gets the call a lot of the time. So he's a solid middle linebacker.

"Since I've been here, we've had Antonio Pierce and we've had Chase Blackburn, and I think Mark Herzlich is right in that same category. A.P. and Chase could tell you ... I'd say maybe 50-50 chance, but they could tell you a decent amount of what the play was going to be, run or pass. And in our division, I think they could tell you,like, which direction the run was going to go and what possibilities of which gap it was going to be through. And he's up there."

(Note: Herzlich is competing with Dan Connor for the starting middle linebacker job, but Kiwanuka didn't feel as comfortable breaking down Connor, since Connor wasn't on the team last year and he doesn't know him as well.)

Jacquian Williams

"He's probably one of the faster linebackers out there. I think he's got the capability of playing nickel in some systems, so it gives us a lot of versatility in terms of what you can do, specifically, on passing downs. You leave him on the field, he can cover any receiver the offense is going to put out there. He also blitzes like a big-time linebacker and he can stop the run, too. I think he has Pro Bowl-caliber play in him. As long as he stays healthy, he'll be good.

"You can put him on your best pass-catching receiver or your receiving tight end and he'll more than hold his own. But what I'm saying is, you can also put him on a legitimate slot receiver and leave him out there and he'll do his job."

(So, what does Williams still need to work on?)

"It's just mental. He came in as such a good athlete that he could recover from a lot of situations that he found himself in, and as he gets older, he has to learn that people are going to read and scout him and he's going to be a focal point of who you need to beat in order to get get past the Giants defense. So people are going to be targeting him and he needs to be more disciplined in his reads, but he'll get there."

Spencer Paysinger

"Up and comer. I think maybe he didn't get as much time on the field last year, but he's a spectacular athlete. I think in his first preseason game you saw that he was all over the field. He's another one of those guys in the field that I think has it all put together, just needs to go out and do it on Sundays. Definitely the kind of guy who could be a three-down linebacker, for sure."

Keith Rivers

"He's a veteran. He's a speed guy. If you put him out there and somebody's going to try to turn that corner on him, you see the wheels turn. I think he's proven what he can do on the field. He was a high draft pick and this and that, so everybody knows he has the intangibles. It's more about fitting into the system and getting comfortable with it."

So there you have it. Take it for what it's worth -- this is a teammate, with an interest in pumping these guys up. But I thought it was worth finding out from someone on the inside what it is the Giants see in terms of potential when they look at their linebacker corps.
As rallying cries go, "Hey, we may not be so bad!" isn't an all-timer. But a little realism is OK, even in mid-August, and at this point that's about all the New York Giants' linebackers have. Per Ralph Vacchiano:
“I mean, it’s natural for fans to kind of fear the unknown,” Spencer Paysinger, currently one of the Giants’ starting outside linebackers, told the Daily News. “Obviously the Giants have a great legacy in terms of linebackers and this is kind of scary territory for them because they don’t have a big-name linebacker to come in and pretty much set the tone.

“But just a word to the public: We have some capable guys.”

Love it. I could see it as a new marketing slogan. "The 2013 New York Giants: We have some capable guys." Fans could get customized jerseys with the linebackers' numbers and the word "CAPABLE" across the back shoulders instead of the player's name. It'd be a thing, and if the Giants' linebacking corps were to end up having a big year, it'd be a fun running joke for years to come.

Truth is, though, linebacker is the most questionable position on the Giants' roster for good reason. They simply don't invest in it. As much time as they spend in nickel packages or three-safety looks, and because their defense is designed around the concept of generating a pass rush with the front four, it's not worth their top resources.

Of the seven linebackers addressed in Ralph's story, three were undrafted and another, Jacquian Williams, was a sixth-round pick. Dan Connor is a former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers who came cheap as a free agent after a disappointing year with the Cowboys. Keith Rivers and Aaron Curry are both former top-10 overall picks who were on the market because their original teams (and, in the case of Curry, a second team) gave up on them.

So it's little surprise that there's not much about which to be fired up. And Paysinger's assessment is likely just fine. If the Giants can find three "capable" starting linebackers, then they'll be happy with that. It's all they really want out of the group. There's some upside potential, of course. Mark Herzlich was a brilliant college player before he was diagnosed with cancer. Curry was talked about as a possible top overall pick in his draft year. Williams was a valuable piece of the Super Bowl title team two years ago and has looked more than "capable" as a coverage linebacker when he's been healthy. But the Giants don't need their linebacking corps to carry on the great tradition of Giants linebackers of the past. The Giants defenses of the present are built on the line and the secondary. That's where they spend their money and their high draft picks, and those are the players who need to play like stars in order for the Giants to succeed. Any greatness they get out of the three guys in the middle of the defense is kind of a bonus.

Camp Confidential: New York Giants

August, 6, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The buzzword around the New York Giants the past few years has been "consistency." As in, they need to find ways to be more consistent week-to-week, month-to-month in order to achieve their goal of making the playoffs. When they make the playoffs, the Giants are a threat to win the Super Bowl, as they showed two seasons ago. But in three of the past four seasons, they have failed to qualify for the postseason.

The issue, ironically, is that for all of their in-season inconsistencies, the Giants are actually one of the most consistent teams in the league year-to-year. Their regular-season win totals the past four seasons are 8, 10, 9 and 9. There are teams all over the league that would kill for that kind of consistency -- to stay annually in the division race deep into December and be in position to get themselves into what Giants general manager Jerry Reese calls "the tournament." But for the Giants, it's not good enough.

"I guess we are consistent when you look at it that way. So we need to be better," quarterback Eli Manning said before Giants training camp practice Friday. "We expect to be a team that can get 11 wins, that can get 12 wins in a season. So I think it's really just playing to our potential, is really what we're saying. We've got to avoid the bad games. We should be in every game we play."

There are multiple levels on which to attack the problem. Manning himself says he's working to improve his accuracy, especially insofar as it helps the Giants get back to hitting big plays in the passing game. Around him the offensive line and the receiving corps are working to get and stay healthy and be cohesive. The run game is transitioning to younger players. On the other side of the ball, the Giants hope the pass rush can rebound from a 33-sack season (the Giants' lowest team total in that category since 2009) and return to the dominant form that helped it win the Super Bowl two seasons ago. If that happens, they believe the secondary will play better and a defense that allowed the second-most yards in the NFL last year will necessarily improve its ability to control games and steer away from the annual potholes.

"Since I've been here, we've kind of fallen into that same trap. We've had that midseason letdown," said safety Antrel Rolle, who's entering his fourth season with the Giants. "And I'm not quite sure why that's happened, but we definitely need to break that mind frame and get above the nine, 10 wins, because we're better than that. Our standards are way beyond that."

The Giants are holding training camp this year at their regular-season practice facility, mere yards from the stadium in which the Super Bowl will be played six months from now. The view of hulking MetLife Stadium from their practice fields, along with the Super Bowl countdown clock Reese installed in the locker room, is making sure the Giants keep their very high goals in mind as they prepare for the 2013 season.


[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Seth WenigDavid Wilson will now have the chance to be the lead back in New York's running attack.
1. Who will carry the ball? With mainstay Ahmad Bradshaw off to Indianapolis, the running game is in the hands of 2012 first-round pick David Wilson and Andre Brown, who was the Giants' goal-line back before an injury ended the 2012 season for him. Wilson has everyone excited because of his game-breaking potential, but it's clear that whichever of these guys shows the most as a pass-blocker will get the bulk of the carries.

"You really can't play unless you can protect the quarterback," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Fortunately, those two young men as well as our other running backs have had the opportunity to look at Ahmad's film and get a better understanding of the complexities of our protection packages. Those two guys are very, very fast and very skilled, and we definitely believe in the balance theory. To play great football, we're going to have to run the ball."

Expect a carry split not unlike what the Giants have shown in years past. But if Wilson shows he can stay on the field for three downs, he could emerge as a star. No Giants back in recent memory has been as explosive a runner as he is.

2. Can they get to the quarterback? The pass rush is in flux as well. Osi Umenyiora is in Atlanta. Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery and may not be ready for Week 1. Justin Tuck has 12.5 sacks in his last 32 games. Mathias Kiwanuka is moving back up to the line after a couple of years in the linebacking corps. And they only had 33 sacks last year. The Giants, historically, do not have the kind of success they intend to have without a dominating pass rush.

Tuck says he's rejuvenated after two tough years -- healthier than he's been in any camp since 2010. He's in the final year of his contract, and if he looks like his old self this year, he and the team will benefit dramatically. Toughening up inside at defensive tackle should help as well, and if Pierre-Paul makes a full recovery, this will be a driven unit capable of much bigger things.

3. Last stand for the old guard? "Me worrying about contracts or things that are going to happen in the future doesn't really help me in the present," Tuck said after practice last Friday. "I've never been a player that played the game for money or played for a big contract. If I did, don't you think I'd have been more inclined to play well the last two years and not have to worry about the contract now? I just want to go out there and prove to people that Justin Tuck can do still do his job very well."

Tuck's feelings echo those of teammates David Diehl and Corey Webster. All three are proud Giant champions who took a lot of criticism for their disappointing play in 2012. All three are determined to play better in 2013. All three are likely done in New York next year if they don't. The Giants are placing a big bet on the professional and personal pride of some of their title-team cornerstones. They're all talking tough in August, but it's got to translate into turn-back-the-clock production for the Giants' key veterans.


[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Seth WenigEli Manning has plenty of offensive weapons this season and the unit will be capable of putting up a lot of points.
Manning is always the biggest reason for optimism in East Rutherford. Steady, reliable and capable of making every clutch throw there is, the Giants' franchise quarterback is the sun around which their current universe revolves. With Victor Cruz back in the fold after an offseason contract dispute, Rueben Randle looking good as he prepared for his second season, the young legs in the run game, and a new tight end in Brandon Myers who caught 79 passes in Oakland last season, Manning is surrounded by exciting weapons on offense. And if top receiver Hakeem Nicks can shake his latest offseason injury bout and stay healthy all year, this is an offense capable of scoring a lot of points in a hurry.


The one issue on offense -- and it's a big one -- is the blocking. Bradshaw was a great blocking back, and as we've already discussed we don't know what Wilson and Brown can bring as blockers over a full season. Martellus Bennett was a great run-blocking tight end, and that's not a strength of Myers' game. Diehl is proud, determined and worthy of the benefit of the doubt, but he's coming off a bad season. Interior offensive linemen Chris Snee and David Baas have struggled the past few years with injuries. All of the skill-position talent is exciting, but it could be undone if the Giants can't answer some of their big blocking questions.


  • Rolle said that when Kenny Phillips went down with his injury problems last year, he had to play a lot in the box while fellow safety Stevie Brown handled the post safety role. Brown did collect eight interceptions in that role, but the Giants want him to be more versatile now that Phillips is gone and he's a full-time starter. Having a full training camp to work as a starter is helping Brown become the kind of interchangeable safety they need him and Rolle to be. "We already know he's a ballhawk and can go and he can go get the ball and do something with it once he gets it," Rolle said. "Now he's showing us that he can play in the box and definitely be a versatile safety."
  • They don't want to talk about it because they don't want to give away their plans, but the Giants have worked on some different alignments of the defensive front seven this camp. Usually a strict 4-3 team, the Giants have tried some 3-4 looks or some hybrid looks that ask their defensive ends to stand up and either play outside linebacker or at least look as though they might. The idea is to confuse the offense and possibly to be in better position to react to the run-heavy, read-option offenses in Washington and maybe Philadelphia.
  • Third-year cornerback Prince Amukamara is healthy and hoping to build on his solid second season. He said his goal is to play well enough that he's able to stay on one side and Webster on the other side of the field for the whole game, rather than having Webster assigned to the other team's No. 1 receiver regardless of where he lines up. The coaches say that's their goal for their cornerbacks as well, and Amukamara's strong camp is leading them to believe they can play that way.
  • Former Eagle Cullen Jenkins has worked some at defensive end as well as tackle. His experience playing different positions in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts could help the Giants if they plan to be varied and have multiple looks on defense.
  • Randle, the team's second-round pick in 2012, is a big-bodied outside threat who could keep Cruz in the slot where he's at his best. It's still premature to project Randle as Nicks' long-term replacement, but from what I saw he's a guy who knows how to use his size and his leaping ability to out-fight a defensive back for a ball in traffic. His speed becomes more of an asset the further he gets down the field, because of his long strides.
  • The biggest-impact 2013 draft pick could be second-rounder Johnathan Hankins, who looks like a valuable part of the rotation at defensive tackle. Third-rounder Damontre Moore is at least a situational pass-rusher at this point, and it's easy to see the way those playmaking instincts help him get off the ball and into the backfield. First-round pick Justin Pugh isn't running with the first team (and he's actually out right now with a concussion), but they have worked him at tackle and guard and they believe he's going to be a valuable long-term piece for them at some position on the line. Right now, though, he's clearly behind Diehl at right tackle.
  • We've come this far without mentioning linebacker, and I don't have much to report. Between their nickel packages, the three-safety looks they like so much, and the possibility that they might show some 3-4 here and there, it's just not a high-priority spot. Spencer Paysinger is making a push for the starting spot at weakside linebacker, with Keith Rivers on the strong side and Mark Herzlich in the middle at least so far. But I think the linebacker alignment could depend on who shows something on special teams.

Best Giants camp battles

July, 31, 2013

Tom Coughlin says he has never had a training camp competition as wide open as the one he currently has at linebacker.

Linebacker is just one of the positions where there will be competition. Here's a look at the best camp battles for the New York Giants:

1. Linebackers.

The competitors: MLB Mark Herzlich, OLB Keith Rivers, OLB Spencer Paysinger, OLB Jacquian Williams, MLB Dan Connor, OLB Aaron Curry, LB Kyle Bosworth, MLB Jake Muasau, LB Etienne Sabino.

The 411: Herzlich, Rivers and Paysinger are the starters so far in camp. Williams, Connor and Curry make up the second team. Herzlich and Connor are competing to replace Chase Blackburn, and it appears like it's Herzlich's job to lose thus far. Paysinger definitely has a chance to hold on to a starting spot. If Rivers can stay healthy, he can do some of the things Michael Boley did. When healthy, Williams can be a three-down linebacker, and his speed and athleticism allows him to cover tight ends. Curry is a wild card.

What they're saying: "They told us nothing is set in stone, everybody has to work," Paysinger said of the coaches' message. "They say that when it comes to the depth chart, it can change any day, that we dictate how the depth chart goes. If one person has a great day, he might be going with the ones, if a person slips up a little bit, he might be going with the twos and threes."

2. Right tackle.

The competitors: David Diehl, Justin Pugh, James Brewer.

The 411: Diehl is the front-runner because of his experience and is the starter right now. Pugh was drafted for a reason with the team's first-round pick. Jerry Reese said there was initial concern about Pugh's arm length for the tackle position. However, the Giants will see what Pugh can do at right tackle with the second team. Brewer has been getting first-team reps at right guard while Chris Snee makes his way back from offseason hip surgery, but Coughlin says Brewer is in the mix.

What they're saying: "David Diehl is a highly motivated guy in the first place, and competition always brings out the best," Coughlin said.

3. Backup defensive tackle.

The competitors: Shaun Rogers, Johnathan Hankins, Mike Patterson, Marvin Austin, Markus Kuhn, Frank Okam.

The 411: The Giants loaded up at defensive tackle in an effort to stop the run this season. Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins will start at defensive tackle. There will be stiff competition for the spots behind the starters. When motivated and healthy, Rogers is a load. He and Hankins, the team's second-round pick, have been working with the second team. Patterson and Austin have received third-team snaps. Austin, the team's second-round pick in 2011, is going to have to fight for a roster spot. Kuhn, who impressed the coaches last season, is on the PUP list.

What they're saying: "He's been healthy for the first time," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said about Austin. "He's where he needs to be right now. He just can't disappear when the pads come on."

4. Fourth defensive end.

The competitors: Adrian Tracy, Damontre Moore, Justin Trattou, Matt Broha, Adewale Ojomo.

The 411: With Osi Umenyiora gone, the Giants need a fourth pass-rusher to emerge to play behind -- and sometimes alongside -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. Tracy is the leading candidate for the fourth end spot, but Moore, the team's third-round pick, has impressed early. Until JPP is healthy, both Tracy and Moore could see snaps as the third and fourth ends.

What they're saying: "We've got some young guys that have to show up," Nunn said. "They look good when they're running around with no pads on, but you still see some things that get you excited."

5. Running back.

The competitors: David Wilson and Andre Brown.

The 411: Wilson and Brown technically are competing for the starting spot. But Wilson is the starter in camp and should be the starter for the season. Still, the two running backs likely could share carries, with the hot hand getting the majority of the carries in any given game. Brown is expected to resume his role as goal-line back as well.

What they're saying: "David is a different style of back than we've ever really had here at the Giants over the years," quarterback Eli Manning said. "A lot of speed and explosiveness. Both of them [Wilson and Brown] are different style runners, and we'll kind of understand that and put them in to do things that they are best at."
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC East needed to make but didn't.

Dallas Cowboys: Upgrade at right tackle. The Cowboys believe they improved their offensive line with the first-round draft selection of center Travis Frederick, and they may be right. But the problem is the line needed more help than that. Instead of getting the disappointing Doug Free to take a pay cut and stay, the Cowboys could have explored other options, such as using another early-round pick on a tackle or signing one of the veterans (Tyson Clabo, Eric Winston) who were cut during free agency. Cap issues were one factor, but basically the Cowboys seemed content with the idea of a right tackle platoon or training camp competition between Free and Jermey Parnell. They claim the platoon of that pair worked well late last season, but it's likely the right tackle's play looked good only in comparison to Free's terrible first-half performance.

New York Giants: Anything of consequence at linebacker. Sure, they brought back Keith Rivers. Yawn. And they signed Dan Connor. Double yawn. And they took a chance on Aaron Curry, who was once one of the top prospects in the league but has already washed out with two teams. Interesting, but certainly not a confidence-boosting sign. Mathias Kiwanuka, who was one of their starting linebackers the past two years, will move back up to defensive end to help replace Osi Umenyiora, who left as a free agent. And there are some young guys the Giants brought in as rookies two years ago who may be good enough to play or start. The Giants feel they got stronger up front at defensive tackle and never mind spending on defensive backs, but the middle of the field remains a weakness for them against offenses that are willing to exploit it. Some guys are going to have to outperform expectations at linebacker in 2013.

Philadelphia Eagles: Spend some money on the secondary. The Eagles were the only NFC East team that had cap room to burn. Even though they needed to improve all four starting positions in the secondary, they chose to go the economic route, bringing in uninspiring cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safety Patrick Chung. Former Giant Kenny Phillips is a premium talent at safety, but they got him inexpensively as well, and the reason is a chronic knee problem that could keep him from ever playing for them. New coach Chip Kelly was looking for physical cornerbacks with the ability to tackle, which is fine, and I can understand that the Eagles felt burned by the way the Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moves of two years ago worked out. But the moves at defensive back feel like half-measures, and you get the feeling they'll be looking to upgrade the same spots next year. This was a team that should have at least looked into trading for Darrelle Revis, though it would have been hard to justify giving up the No. 4 overall pick in the draft for him.

Washington Redskins: Get Pierre Garcon's foot fixed. This one is on Garcon, of course. The team can't force a player to have surgery if he doesn't want to have surgery. Garcon did have a procedure to repair a shoulder problem, which is good, but it was the torn ligament in his foot that bothered him last season, cost him six games and is at risk of flaring up again if rest didn't cure it completely. Garcon was a hugely valuable part of the Redskins' offense as Robert Griffin III's No. 1 wide receiver. Everyone has heard that the Redskins were 9-1 in regular-season games in which Garcon played. The Redskins' cap problems prevented them from improving the secondary or the offensive line and from keeping special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But when they look back on this offseason, their biggest regret may be that Garcon didn't get the foot surgery he needed.

Giants' 'red flag': Linebacker

May, 13, 2013
Football Outsiders is doing a series of posts called "Red Flags," which take a look at the biggest remaining issue facing each team with the draft behind us and minicamps getting underway. Today's post is on the NFC East teams Insider, and I'm breaking it up into four smaller posts to examine the red flags team-by-team. This one's on the New York Giants, for whom the greatest remaining concern appears to be linebacker.

I don't remember whether I mentioned this to you guys at all before the draft, but the Giants haven't picked a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984. So it's no coincidence Sean McCormick thinks "it's hard to remember the last time the Giants had even one really good player in their linebacking corps." The Giants tend to spend their resources on really good players who play other positions, like the defensive line and wide receiver and quarterback, and the result at linebacker is stuff like this:
The current starting trio of Dan Connor, Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams is typical of the patchwork approach general manager Jerry Reese has taken during his tenure. Connor is a solid two-down plugger who is vulnerable in the passing game due to his lack of speed. Rivers is a former top-10 pick who has accumulated more surgeries than sacks in his five-year career. And Jacquian Williams is a guy named Jacquian Williams; he reportedly played in each of the past two seasons, but Giants fans can neither confirm nor deny his presence on the roster.

Sean's being cute here, of course. Giants fans surely know Williams as the 2011 sixth-round pick who made a key contribution as a special teamer and coverage linebacker during the postseason run two years ago and had had injury problems in 2012. But none of that makes him a reliable starter on a team that always contends for the division title, and there are reasons to doubt the credentials of both Rivers and Connor on that front as well. Mathias Kiwanuka appears to be moving back up to the defensive line full-time. They recently signed former first-rounder Aaron Curry in case they might be able to get something out of him that his first two NFL teams couldn't, and as Sean writes, they still have Mark Herzlich kicking around. They get by at the position, but they rarely do anything great there.

It's also important to note the Giants spend less time every year in their base 4-3 as passing offenses continue to get more complex and they have to run nickel corners and third safeties into the lineup to offset them. So linebacker is, by definition, a low-priority item for them. Still, there are times when the pass rush isn't dominant and the secondary is lost and the Giants look soft in the middle of the defense, and when that happens you have to think the lack of top talent at the linebacker position is costing them. It's likely to happen a few times this year as well. It's just a decision the Giants always seem to make to go in that direction.
I know, right? I'll bet a lot of you forgot all about linebacker Clint Sintim, the first of the New York Giants' two second-round picks in the 2009 draft. He hasn't played since blowing out his right knee for the second time in the 2011 preseason. And as Ohm Youngmisuk writes, he isn't planning to play ever again:
Sintim wrote on Facebook: I never actually announced it but I am officially retired from the game of football. I want to thank everyone who supported me throughout my movement but it was honestly time for me to walk away from the game. Ambition should not be limited to a sport and in my case it is not. "Continue to chase your dreams with the awareness of obstacles....You may not always be able to dictate your path.....but your response to change is always mental!!"---------------->@ClintSintim52

Sintim finishes his pro career with 33 tackles and one sack.

Why is this relevant to the blog on May 6, 2013? Well, because it's May 6 for one thing. But also because we've been talking a lot about the Giants' linebacker situation, and Sintim is a recent example of the Giants using a relatively valuable resource (the 45th pick in the draft) on a linebacker who didn't pan out. Part of the reason the Giants are thin at the position is that they don't usually make it a priority during the player-acquisition portion of the offseason, and part of it is that several of the guys they've worked to acquire (Sintim and Keith Rivers are two examples) haven't developed or performed the way the Giants hoped they would, either because of injury or for other reasons.

As we mentioned in the links this morning, part of the reason the Giants undervalue linebacker is that they're a 4-3 team that's using its base front less and less as the years go on and passing offenses continue to find ways to put more passing-game personnel on the field. The Giants think it wiser to invest in the defensive line and the secondary. But it says something that they once thought enough of Sintim to use such a relatively high pick on him, and you do wonder what might have been if he had stayed healthy.

And yes, the other second-round pick they had that year was tackle Will Beatty.
A couple of people have pointed out on Twitter (and I thank them for doing so politely) that it's been too long since my last post that was completely devoted to the New York Giants. I generally work hard to avoid oversights like these, and I have no excuse. So before I disappear for a while (and in the absence of any real news on which to peg a Giants post), here are five things I think could happen for the Giants in 2013 that might surprise some people.

[+] EnlargeKiwanuka
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMathias Kiwanuka could be in position to give the Giants' pass rush a boost this coming season.
1. Mathias Kiwanuka gets 10 sacks. This would be a career high, by two, but I think the opportunity is going to be there for Kiwanuka to be a major factor in the pass rush. Osi Umenyiora is gone. Justin Tuck appears to be trending downward, having collected just nine sacks total over the past two years while missing five games because of injury. Jason Pierre-Paul should bounce back on the other side, but I see Kiwanuka moving up from linebacker to fill in for Tuck while Tuck struggles with health and/or effectiveness. The signings of Keith Rivers and Dan Connor, plus the expected continued development of youngsters like Jacquian Williams, should give the Giants enough at outside linebacker to allow Kiwanuka to play more defensive end in 2013.

2. Rueben Randle catches 50 passes. There was a time in the second half of the 2012 season when the Giants would take Victor Cruz off the field and line up in a two-wide receiver set with Hakeem Nicks on one side and a non-Cruz receiver on the other. At times, the other receiver was the rookie Randle. There is concern, which has no doubt been brought up in contract discussions, that Cruz gets physically manhandled at times when he lines up outside, and that his real value is as a slot receiver. With Domenik Hixon off to Carolina, the opportunity exists for Randle, the 2012 second-round pick, to show he can be the outside receiver who can keep Cruz in the slot and offer an alternative to Nicks across the field. And if Nicks and Cruz are both healthy and on the field at the same time in three-receiver sets, whoever the other guy is will be open.

3. James Brewer starts at least 10 games at right tackle. I believe David Diehl will enter training camp as the starter, but that Brewer will play well enough in his third year to take the job. This kind of follows the Giants' pattern of development for offensive linemen, and it seems clear that they don't feel right tackle is a worry.

4. The secondary struggles again. This might not jive with my predictions of a 10-sack Kiwanuka season and a rejuvenated Pierre-Paul, since I think an improved pass rush would help the secondary. But even if the Giants improve on their 33-sack 2012 season, I don't see the pass rush, as currently constructed, returning to the dominant levels it reached during the Super Bowl run two seasons ago. That means more pressure on Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara & Co. in the defensive backfield, and, as you know, I believe they will miss safety Kenny Phillips. It seems the Giants let Phillips walk because of long-range concerns about the health of his knee, and they might have been right to do so. But the defense struggled mightily without him on the field in 2012, and I don't see Antrel Rolle or Stevie Brown stepping into his uber-versatile leadership role. I think the secondary continues to be an issue.

5. Cruz will not sign a contract extension prior to the end of the season. The most recent turns in Cruz's contract dispute with the Giants have changed my thinking on this. I think each side is dug in -- the Giants willing to make him the league's highest-paid slot receiver at between $7 million-$8 million per year and Cruz demanding top-receiver money (between $10 million-$11 million per year) based on his top-receiver numbers of the past two seasons. I can't see what happens between now and the start of the season to bridge that gap, and once the season starts each side will be willing to let 2013 results determine the outcome. If Cruz has another monster year, his case gets stronger and the Giants (possibly depending on what they see from Nicks health-wise or Randle development-wise) either cave in or let him leave as a highly paid free agent. If Cruz doesn't post top-receiver numbers or if he has an injury that limits him, the Giants' case gets stronger and Cruz likely takes less to stay in New York. It's risky both ways, but as of April 6 that's the way it looks to be headed.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC East team has been a winner or a loser in free agency:

Dallas Cowboys: Loser. The only significant free-agent move the Cowboys have made is the franchising of Anthony Spencer, who will be one of the starting defensive ends in their new 4-3 defensive alignment. Even if you like that move, you have to acknowledge that its $10.6 million cost has worked as a detriment for a team that had no cap room to start with. The Cowboys still need a lot of help on the offensive line and at safety but have been unable to maneuver around the cap. Their inability so far to reach agreement on a long-term deal with quarterback Tony Romo -- a move that would reduce his 2013 cap cost -- has also deprived them of the ability to address needs so far. The Cowboys haven't lost any significant pieces in free agency, but a lack of flexibility compounded by $5 million in leftover cap penalties has kept them from adding where they need to add.

New York Giants: Winner. I mean, not in the same way that teams like the Seahawks or the Chiefs have been winners, but in their own, Giant-like way. Replacing tight end Martellus Bennett with Brandon Myers at low cost, re-signing left tackle Will Beatty before the market opened, signing Keith Rivers and Dan Connor at linebacker ... nothing that's going to knock your socks off, but some targeted, low-financial-impact moves designed to keep the program winning. The Giants still could turn out to be losers if they don't do at least some work on the offensive line. And I think it's possible they'll end up missing safety Kenny Phillips more than they think. But to this point, they're operating their offseason the way they like to operate it. Low-key but productive.

Philadelphia Eagles: Winner. Again, we're operating on a curve here. This division in general has not been the league's most exciting since the start of the free-agency period. But the Eagles have added two starting safeties (Patrick Chung and Phillips, on a low-risk/high-reward deal), two starting cornerbacks (Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher), pass-rusher Connor Barwin, a versatile fullback/tight end type in James Casey and a big, 24-year-old wide receiver in Arrelious Benn. The Eagles still have plenty of cap room with which to pursue the right tackle they need, and they've addressed enough positions to allow them flexibility with the No. 4 pick in next month's draft. No one can predict how their new additions will play, but they do seem to have targeted and acquired the players they wanted.

Washington Redskins: Loser. They've actually done well to hold together as much of their division-champion team as they have, considering the $18 million in cap penalties they're still dealing with this year. But they had to cut cornerback DeAngelo Hall, lost special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, and have yet to re-sign tight end Fred Davis. More importantly, though, they still have major needs in the secondary and have been unable to land the free safety or the starting cornerback they need. E.J. Biggers is probably better as a No. 3 cornerback, though at this point he may project as one of their starters. The good thing is that the safety and cornerback market still has lots of options, and the prices aren't going up. But the Redskins have no first-round pick next month, so they have some challenges ahead.
Looking to add to their depth at linebacker, the New York Giants will bring back Keith Rivers, who played 11 games for them in 2012 after they acquired him from the Bengals last offseason.

Injuries have been Rivers' problem, in Cincinnati and again in New York, but another problem he had in 2012 was that the Giants didn't have an obvious place to play him. His position was the same one Michael Boley was playing in the Giants' defense, so when Boley was on the field they had to use Rivers in something of a utility linebacker role, and he didn't help much.

Boley's gone now, though, and the Giants' linebacking corps has very little experience on it. It's possible Rivers could simply take Boley's place, though it's also possible they're looking at Jacquian Williams for that role. As was the case last year, the Giants appear to be bringing in Rivers to give themselves as many options as possible for solving their annual issues at linebacker.

What they really need is a middle linebacker, as Chase Blackburn seems set on testing the market. Rivers is not that, and it's unclear what the Giants' plans are for that spot if Blackburn leaves. They like Mark Herzlich, but he didn't show much when given a chance to fill in for Blackburn last year. They have shown interest so far in Jasper Brinkley and Rey Maualuga among free-agent linebackers, and it appears as though they'll have some good linebacker options available to them with the 19th pick in next month's draft if they decide they want to go in that direction.

The Giants don't tend to prioritize the linebacker position, though, so I'd think it's likely they'll continue to work to patch it with mid-range options they find on the market for good prices or with some of their young internal inventory. And who knows? If he can stay healthy for a change, maybe Rivers turns out to be part of the 2013 answer.

What should Giants do at linebacker?

February, 12, 2013
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.
Hey, we didn't do a Twitter mailbag last week because I was taking a long weekend. That's on me. But we're back up and running this week. Remember, you can send in a question at any time of the week on Twitter just by using the hashtag #nfceastmail. You do not have to wait until I ask. Here are some examples from this week.

@ourfamily385: Dan, which should the Cowboys concentrate on first and more often in the draft, OL or DL?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Two weeks ago, if asked this question about the Dallas Cowboys, I'd have said offensive line without hesitating. However, with the hiring of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator signaling a change to a 4-3 defensive alignment, there are circumstances brewing that could make defensive line the correct answer. Anthony Spencer is going to be a difficult re-sign for the Cowboys given their salary-cap issues, and if he goes elsewhere, a pass-rushing defensive end to play on the side opposite DeMarcus Ware becomes the biggest need on the entire team. There are some who worry that Ware won't be as dominant a player with his hand on the ground as he was as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and he's shown serious signs of wear each of the past two seasons. If defenses don't have anyone to worry about on the other side, it's hard to see how Kiffin could get the pressure he needs to get on opposing quarterbacks from his down linemen. Now, none of this means the Cowboys don't have serious needs at guard, tackle and center. They do. But in terms of a first-round pick, losing Spencer might force them to focus on a pass-rushing lineman.

@paulzuk_81: Ideas on how the redskins can rebuild their mediocre secondary?

@ESPN_NFCEast: We discussed this on the blog the other day, and I think the biggest need for the Washington Redskins is at safety. They like the way Brandon Meriweather fits the strong safety spot in their system, but he's coming off a season's worth of knee injuries, and they might not be able to count on him. And they need to upgrade from Madieu Williams at free safety. So I think they need to get a safety in free agency (Pittsburgh's Ryan Mundy feels like a realistic name who'd be a fit) and seriously think about one with one of their first couple of draft picks. They could find a starting-caliber safety in the second or third round, especially if they think Meriweather's going to come back healthy and the pick has time to develop. We also raised the idea of cornerback DeAngelo Hall moving to free safety, which I think could work if he's up for it and will take a pay cut. That would create a need at cornerback, but they kind of need to upgrade from Hall there anyway.

@EricLB52: Do you think the eagles will do the switch to a 3-4 D-front? If so, you think they have the right personnel to do it?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Other than what new Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly said in his introductory news conference, everything I have heard since he got hired has said he wants to run a 3-4 defense. And since the things coaches say in news conferences are not always true, I am inclined to believe the other sources. However, I do not think in any way that they have the right personnel to do it. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham would become stand-up outside linebackers, and we have no proof either could make that transition smoothly. Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins would become 3-4 defensive ends, which would probably be fine, but they'd need a nose tackle. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who was the best defensive player the Eagles had in 2012, was a poor fit in the 3-4 in Houston, which is why the Eagles were able to get him so cheaply. Basically I don't see how anyone in the Eagles' front seven would benefit from the change. Some might surprise and make it smoothly, but I don't think it makes any of them better. Also, a change like this likely would take at least two years before it worked effectively, as recent examples in places like Green Bay and Washington have shown. Do the Eagles and their fans have the patience to wait and suffer through the inevitable first-year struggles?

@EAZY41: What is the single biggest area that the Giants must shore up going into next season?

@ESPN_NFCEast: The New York Giants have a lot of areas to address this offseason, including the offensive line, running back, safety and cornerback. They have contract issues with several of their current players at those positions that must be resolved before they can determine what they need to do in free agency and the draft. But in a vacuum, I think their biggest position of need is linebacker. This is not an area the Giants have made a high priority in recent years, and if you asked them they might tell you cornerback and defensive line are more important areas of current concern. But inconsistent linebacker play was a problem this season, Chase Blackburn and Keith Rivers are unrestricted free agents and Michael Boley could be a salary-cap casualty. The three guys who were rookies during the Super Bowl season -- Mark Herzlich, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger, each have shown flashes, but might not be ready to start. Mathias Kiwanuka could have to move back up to defensive end full-time with the presumed free-agent departure of Osi Umenyiora. I think they need a leader and a thumper at the middle linebacker spot, and in limited duty so far Herzlich has not shown the ability to be that at the NFL level. Maybe he will, but if I were the Giants I'd be on the lookout for some proven help for at least one of my three starting linebacker spots.

Thanks for all of the questions.