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Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Giants try to replace Jonathan Goff

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tom Coughlin admits that even he pauses and wonders what the heck is going on with all the injuries to the New York Giants defense.

"You do have your moments," the Giants coach said Wednesday, one day after learning that starting middle linebacker Jonathan Goff will miss the rest of the season.

Goff was diagnosed Tuesday with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, suffered during practice Monday.

"We didn't find this out until late in the afternoon and we had to move fast and think fast and make some decisions there," Coughlin said. "Not under the best of circumstances, but nevertheless, that is what we are charged with, so here we are."

The defense has lost Goff, linebacker Clint Sintim, tackle Marvin Austin and cornerbacks Terrell Thomas, Bruce Johnson and Brian Witherspoon to season-ending injuries. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora will miss Sunday's season opener as he continues to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery. Cornerback Prince Amukamara, the Giants' first-round pick, is out indefinitely with a broken foot.

Now, less than a week before their season kicks off in Washington, the Giants have to find a new starting middle linebacker.

They could potentially sign former Giant Kawika Mitchell. Other linebackers available are former Giants Chase Blackburn, Dhani Jones, Keith Bulluck and Phillip Dillard. Former Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu is also a free agent.

"You are going to ask me who it is," Coughlin told reporters, "and we will be looking at a couple things today."

Can the Giants get a newly signed linebacker up to speed in just a few days of practice?

"It depends on the individual and their recall," Coughlin said. "But it would take naturally a little while."

Mitchell and Blackburn worked out for the Giants on Wednesday. However, a source said the Giants would not sign a linebacker on Wednesday night.

No matter who the Giants sign, they may have to start rookie Greg Jones against the Redskins, even for limited snaps. Jones is next in line on the roster at middle linebacker and Coughlin praised the team's sixth-round pick, who received third-team reps throughout training camp but still impressed.

Jones is also being considered as Goff's replacement for the rest of the season, Coughlin said.

"He has been here all preseason and he is a good football player," the coach said. "He has had a good preseason himself. Sometimes it is just time to step it up."

The 6-foot, 248-pound Jones may lack ideal size but he has solid instincts against the run, is a strong tackler and is good at running down ball carriers.

"He has always been an outstanding tackler and physical player," Coughlin added. "I think you can see that."

The rookie said his first practice with the starters was a confidence-builder.

"Just getting out there (with the starters) ... a different type of motivation," said Jones, who was the third-team middle linebacker until the team released Dillard last Saturday in final cuts. "Everybody just felt positive too. Nobody was like, 'You are only a rookie.' They were like, 'Hey, you can do this. Believe in yourself and we will follow your lead and make the right calls.'"

Coughlin said he is not concerned about Jones' stature or inexperience, saying that the Giants can do "a combination of things" to help with relaying plays from defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to the huddle. Jones admitted that he and outside linebacker Michael Boley could split the duties as well.

But Jones says he's up for the challenge.

"I can do it, I believe in myself that I can do it," said Jones, who was a two-time, back-to-back All-American linebacker at Michigan State and the Big Ten defensive player of the year his junior season in 2009. "I am not going to doubt myself. I have been preparing for it all this time. I know it has been a short time, no OTAs (this offseason due to the lockout), but I believe in myself. I can do it."

Said Boley: "I don't think we need to change much with Greg stepping in. He has been pretty steady at that spot during the preseason and has made a lot of plays there."

Coughlin said rookie Mark Herzlich can also play some middle linebacker after the team used him there, though sparingly, during training camp.

Of course, the Giants would rather not have to put a rookie in such a tough spot in the first game of the year, especially during a season in which there was no offseason training with the coaching staff due to the lockout.

"You have to get it on the fly," Coughlin said. "Obviously there will be a lot of mistakes, but they will be aggressive ones. That is the thing that you look forward to, plus the improvement. You expect a young guy put in that situation to learn from errors and improve."

The Giants may have to play several safeties on the field in passing situations. Last season, they utilized three safeties often with Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant on the field.

As it was with all the other injuries suffered this preseason, the Giants have to get over the initial shock and move on.

"We are all greatly shocked and disappointed about the loss of Jon Goff," Coughlin said. "Jon has worked his tail off and put himself in position to be our starting middle backer. He has been an outstanding learner and individual and he has done a great job with all the calls and checks and all those things throughout the preseason."

"There is no question that there are a number of defensive players that have gone down," Coughlin added. "There are a number of defensive players that we were counting on that are not going to be with us and you can't hide that fact. We have what we have and we are going forward with it."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com.