It's no secret that New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) had back surgery. Surgery that he delayed until non-surgical therapies failed. Because he postponed his surgery, it is very likely that he will miss the first game of the season. While the loss of JPP is felt throughout the entire defensive squad, there is reason to celebrate. Mathias Kiwanuka will make the switch back from LB to DE. And he'll start.
Kiwanuka was the Giants first round draft pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. He is entering his 8th season with the team. He's a veteran on the defense, and having his leadership on the front line will be huge for the Giants. Kiwi's versatility as a player and his ability to adapt as a person are what make him such a great athlete. And he knows it too:
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Kiwanuka said, when asked whether he was confident he would be able to step in for the Giants’ most dominant player on defense. “That’s the position I came into this league playing and I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Obviously we’d love to have him back and I’m sure he’ll be back ready to go at a certain point. We’re not gonna rush him back for any reason.”
Starting is nothing new for Kiwanuka either. He played in 16 games in each of the last two seasons, starting five games 2012 and 15 in 2011.
“It’s been a long road for me. I’ve been starting at multiple positions,” said Kiwanuka, who missed most of the 2010 season with a neck injury. “I’ve been up and down and back and forth. Moving around and changing . that’s not the big deal to me. The big deal for me is going out there and making sure that I do my job correctly and when I get the opportunity, I make the best of it.”
There are more benefits to this solution than a simple he-can-play-the-position-so-let's-try-this. JPP wasn't as effective on the field last season as he was in 2011. In 2011, JPP had 86 tackles (65 solo), 16.5 sacks, a safety, seven passes defended and two forced fumbles. In 2012 he had 66 tackles (43 solo), 6.5 sacks, five passes defended, one interception (28 yards for a touchdown), one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Those stats clearly show that he was not as effective in 2012. The reason behind that is because other teams started double and even triple-teaming the young DE. It's the only way to stop him or slow him down. Having Kiwanuka in that spot will throw off opposing teams. People are used to seeing Kiwanuka lined up as a LB, not a DE. They forget how good of a DE he really is. In the words of Justin Tuck
“I think he’s going to be kind of like a sleeper at the beginning of the year because a lot of people tend to forget that he’s a pretty good defensive end,” Tuck said. “I’m obviously excited to have him back in that room and I know he’s pretty excited about it.”
So even if JPP's recovery takes longer than expected, the Giants have a plan. Kiwanuka will certainly make a difference at the DE spot, and even after JPP returns, it's likely that he'll spend more time there this season.
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