Commentary

Painful preseason claims another Giant

Hard-luck Sintim is latest defensive player lost; which linebacker will fill the void?

Updated: September 2, 2011, 3:38 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Standing on crutches, staring down at the visitors locker room floor at Gillette Stadium, an emotional Clint Sintim tried to come to grips with his second season-ending injury in nearly 10 months.

Choking back tears, the linebacker said he knew right away that he had suffered a serious injury when he ruptured the patellar tendon -- and likely tore the surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament -- in his right knee in the third quarter of the New York Giants' 18-17 victory over the Patriots in the preseason finale.

"I worked really hard to get back," Sintim said. "It's just unfortunate, but that's the way football is. I'm going to give myself a couple of days and get back on the grind."

[+] EnlargeClint Sintim
AP Photo/Michael DwyerClint Sintim's comeback ended before it could begin in earnest.

Sintim, who tore his ACL in December, was hoping to prove he was worth the second-round pick the Giants invested in him in 2009. General manager Jerry Reese had said during the offseason that the team wanted to see Sintim finally show what he can do.

Reese's first-round pick in 2009, Hakeem Nicks, is poised to perhaps take the next step in becoming an elite wide receiver. And the other second-round pick that year, Will Beatty, will enter the season as the starting left tackle.

Despite being less than a year removed from an ACL injury, Sintim looked good in camp and was slated to enter the season as Mathias Kiwanuka's backup at outside linebacker.

"He looked pretty good," linebacker Michael Boley said. "He was showing some pretty good explosion. He did a good job of relearning the system and implementing himself into it. It is tough to lose a guy like him."

Sintim is just the latest defender to go down with a season-ending injury this preseason, joining cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (ACL), Bruce Johnson (Achilles) and Brian Witherspoon (ACL) and second-round pick Marvin Austin (pectoral).

The Giants also will start the season without first-round pick Prince Amukamara (broken foot) and probably defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who is still recovering from knee surgery.

Coach Tom Coughlin said Sintim's injury was a hard one to swallow after seeing how hard the linebacker worked to get back.

"You got to feel badly for a guy that is coming back off a serious knee [injury], worked his tail off, really didn't say a word the whole preseason, just did what he had to do and worked on the field," Coughlin said. "It's devastating. He will bounce back, but to have to go through what he's got to go through in terms of the rehab, we feel real bad for Clint."

No one knows what will happen with Sintim, now that the former Virginia standout has suffered two knee injuries in less than a year.

[+] EnlargeMark Herzlich
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesMark Herzlich is one of the rookie linebackers aiming to stick with the Giants.

But with every injury comes opportunity, as Justin Tuck likes to say often. Sintim's injury opens another spot for one of the many young linebackers trying to make the squad; the Giants have to cut their roster down to 53 on Saturday.

After starters Kiwanuka, Boley and Jonathan Goff, the Giants have Phillip Dillard, Spencer Paysinger, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams, Adrian Tracy and fan favorite Mark Herzlich.

Dillard and Paysinger are on the second team, and Jones likely will make the squad after impressing the coaching staff at third-team middle linebacker and on special teams. He was credited with a sack and nearly had a fumble recovery against the Patriots.

And Williams, the Giants' other sixth-round linebacker selection, had his best game of the preseason as he was credited with six tackles and three sacks.

Herzlich is the most intriguing linebacker in camp as he continues his inspiring comeback from a rare form of bone cancer. The former Boston College star celebrated his 24th birthday in New England with a sack in his final audition for the team.

"It is starting to feel natural," said Herzlich, who missed the entire 2009 season. "For a while last season, it was kind of like, all right, my brain thinks I can get there but my body is not really getting there. And now that it is all coming together, I want to come around the edge and I am coming around the edge. So it's progress."

Herzlich, though, takes nothing for granted. Prior to the cancer, he was one of the best linebackers in college football. This spring, he was passed over by every team in the draft. Now he hopes he won't be passed over by the Giants this Saturday.

"Outstanding young man, a special guy to work with, does whatever you ask him to do, loves to play, loves to practice," Coughlin said of Herzlich. "And he has been impressive in the preseason."

Sintim's injury might help Herzlich's cause. Then again, it might not. And Herzlich knows that.

"Nothing is guaranteed," Herzlich said. "It might not be there tomorrow."

Sintim also has learned this the hard way as he embarks on yet another grueling rehab process.

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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