EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When Deon Grant rejoined the Giants in the middle of August, a linebacker immediately caught his attention on the field during the safety's first practice.
"I'm telling you, as soon as I stepped on the field and he was in there, I was impressed," Grant said. "I didn't even know his name, I didn't know who he was. The way he was getting to the ball, the way he was hitting, the way he was controlling the defense."
This Sunday, the linebacker that impressed Grant may start in the middle for the New York Giants. Rookie middle linebacker Greg Jones got to work with the starters for the first time on Wednesday as the team searches for ways to replace Jonathan Goff, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury this week.
The Giants worked out former Big Blue linebackers Kawika Mitchell and Chase Blackburn. However, a source said the Giants would not sign a linebacker on Wednesday night. But even if the Giants sign a veteran, Jones may be the starter this Sunday since the Giants only have two more practices to prepare for the Redskins.
"Sometimes it is just time to step it up," said head coach Tom Coughlin, who said he is considering replacing Goff with Jones in the season opener.
Jones is a highly-decorated sixth-round pick who was a two-time back-to-back All-American linebacker at Michigan State.
Jones is only listed at 6-0 but he is a strong tackler with good instincts against the run. 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 Phillip 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 the team could do a combination of things to relay the defensive calls into 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 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."
The middle linebacker has to take control of the defense, relay calls in the huddle and make sure everybody knows their roles. In camp, Jones has been vocal in the huddle, albeit with the third team.
"Study hard and have confidence," Grant said of what a rookie middle linebacker has to do. "Know it's your defense. You have to know that it is your defense. That's his biggest thing. He studies a lot. Even if he has to get with some safeties and some D-line and some other linebackers and even Goff, and see what Goff needs to see, he'll have to put in overtime. That is any MIKE linebacker but definitely a rookie linebacker."
Boley said he always told Goff to orchestrate the defense.
"I always tell my MIKE linebacker, you run the show," Boley said. "So whatever you call, as long as we are all on the same page, we are right. If one person makes a mistake, if everybody makes that same mistake, we are right."
"I don't think we need to change much with Greg stepping in," Boley added. "He has been pretty steady at that spot during the preseason and has made a lot of plays there."
In a few days, Jones could get a chance to make his first career start against the Redskins. And he hopes to leave the same kind of impression he left on Grant that day in August.
"I didn't think it would happen this fast," Jones said of starting. "I thought it would be a more gradual thing. It happened kind of fast. I just want to be prepared and I feel like I am prepared.
"And as my teammates have been telling me, just don't panic, be relaxed, you have been making all the calls, just keep doing what you are doing."