Depth at linebacker for the New York Giants has been a widely discussed topic in recent weeks and months. Currently, Big Blue has Dan Connor, Mark Herzlich and Jake Muasau under contract and the team did not look to address the position last week in the NFL Draft. So, in early May, just a month before the team reports for mandatory mini-camp, the team's starting middle linebacker by default is Connor, who was brought in by the Giants in March on a one-year deal.
In the five years that Connor has been a pro, he's already been through two teams, having played for the Carolina Panthers and most recently, the Dallas Cowboys in 2012.
Connor originally served as a backup to Sean Lee, but ended up stepping in as the starter due to Lee landing on Injured Reserve (IR). The former Penn State graduate started in eight games for Dallas and made 57 total tackles, 29 of them solo. But his best season as a pro came in 2011 with the Panthers, where he started in 11 of the 15 games he played and made 73 total tackles, 52 of them solo, and a forced fumble.
Can Connor be the every-down linebacker for the Giants going forward into the season? Right now, it's very hard to tell.
His scouting report does detail that he's a very strong tackler; however, he's not a play-making tackler who can chase down opponents if needed, which can raise a cause of concern in the NFC East. Connor's appears best suited for when the ball carrier is headed into his lane and squared up with him, in which, he makes the tackle. It's when he has to range to his left or right that he tends gets caught and doesn't make the play. However, he does play the pass well, which is something the Giants as a whole struggled with last season.
Connor doesn't rush the quarterback well, but then again, the Giants never really look to a middle linebacker to be a pass rusher, as neither Chase Blackburn nor Antonio Pierce were used in that role either.
In the past, there's been talk about the possibility of the Giants potentially adding a linebacker like Karlos Dansby, Brian Urlacher or Daryl Smith if their price tag's came down in free agency. Ever since free agency started in the NFL, all three names have been linked to the Giants at point point.
Shortly after the draft, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin even said that he doesn't expect the current roster to be as-is and feels that there will be other looks when camp starts.
"I'm sure there'll be other looks at what's available [on market at LB before camp begins]," Coughlin said.
Dansby's name has been brought up the most, especially since he was linked to the Giants dating back to 2010 before he got signed by the Miami Dolphins, but was released due to salary cap reasons. But some fans feel that the Giants don't put much emphasis on the middle linebacker position and try to get by with what they have, a theory the Giants have been using ever since Pierce retired before 2010.
Despite winning a championship with Blackburn as their starting middle linebacker in 2011, they only got so much ability-wise from him, which is why they only offered him a one-year deal in free agency and eventually, let him leave to the Carolina Panthers.
Blackburn and Connor have a lot of physical similarities with the exception of Connor being a stronger tackler, but is that going to be enough to help fix a defense that ranked number 31 in the league a season ago?
There are other areas of the Giants defense that has to improve from that ranking, but the linebacker unit as a whole at times were downright awful, which is why fans and experts continue to focus on the position. But for now, Connor is the guy in the middle and will look to keep the job from Herzlich, but don't be shocked to see General Manager Jerry Reese looking at other options on the market as the season gets closer, especially if the price tag heavily drops to where signing help makes absolutely sense.
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