A season ago, the New York Giants ranked 24th in the NFL in run defense, 28th in passing defense and 19th in sack percentage, all of which cumulated in the team missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. Although there were a variety of legitimate explanations for Big Blue's shortcomings last year, inconsistent play from the middle of the defense made defending elite NFL offenses a near impossibility.
With the departures of Chase Blackburn and Michael Boley, the Giants, in typical Jerry Reese style, neglected to add any bona fide talent at linebacker this offseason, instead electing to re-sign Keith Rivers and bring on Dan Connor and Aaron Curry to complement the young talent already on the roster.
During OTA's, the Giants have started a combination of Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger on the first unit at linebacker. However, head coach Tom Coughlin says it's still too early to assume how the depth chart will look once week one arrives.
"There are plenty of opportunities; everybody has got a great opportunity," Coughlin said. "There is nothing in concrete there. Matter of fact, I speak about that all of the time. I think it is a great opportunity."
On paper, the Giants are not as talented at linebacker as they were a year ago. The team is going to rely heavily upon Jacquian Williams, Paysinger and Herzlich to step up and produce in their third year. Additionally, the Giants are gambling that Rivers and Curry can stay healthy and tap into the sky high potential that each was portrayed as possessing coming out of college.
But none of the aforementioned hopes and wishes of Jerry Reese are at all guaranteed to come true. In fact, Reese gambled that Rivers would emerge as an effective player last season, only to watch him go through the same troubling injuries that have plagued the former first-round draft pick throughout his career. Curry seems to finally have his head on straight, but it's still unknown whether his knee wil hold up for an entire season. Last but not least, Paysinger, Herzlich and Williams have all dealt with health concerns in the past, while also displaying their fair share of immaturity on the field.
When Coughlin states that nothing is set in stone at linebacker, it's because there's no way of knowing how each player is going to develop during OTA's, training camp and throughout the course of the season. There's a lot of uncertainty at linebacker right now, but there's also a lot of potential. The Giants have 107 more days before opening up in Dallas against the Cowboys to decide who best suits the schemes that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will instill. But either way, the spotlight will be placed directly on the team's most unproven unit throughout the 2013 season.
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