The Giants have been known throughout their history for having superstar linebackers manning their defense but over the past decade, that identity has eroded under the stewardship of GM Jerry Reese.
The Giants have not drafted a linebacker in the first round since they took Carl Banks with the third overall selection in the 1984 NFL Draft. Since Reese took over the Giants' draft in 2007, the Giants have used only a handful of picks on linebackers, most of them in the middle to late rounds.
Reese has only selected two linebackers over the last five drafts. He took Clemson's B.J. Goodson in the fourth round in April and USC's Devon Kennard in the fifth round back in 2014.
The rest of the Giants' LB corps consist of undrafted free agents and open market signees that weren't highly sought by other teams. Mark Herzlich has been with the club the longest, signed out of Boston College as a UDFA in 2011 and then re-signed via free agency before last season. Truth be told, Herzlich is a solid locker room guy but is primarily a part-time and special teams player.
The rest of the linebacker room is filled with players who began their careers elsewhere. J.T. Thomas (Chicago, Jacksonville) and Jonathan Casillas (New Orleans, Tampa Bay, New England) were signed before the beginning of last season. Jasper Brinkley began the 2015 season with Dallas and was scooped up by the Giants when he was released last September. He was re-signed by the Giants in March to a one-year deal.
This offseason, the Giants added two more journeymen to the mix. Former Washington Redskin Keenan Robinson, rated as one of the least effective linebackers in the NFL last season by the website Pro Football Focus, and Kelvin Sheppard, another player with holes in his game, who has played in Buffalo, Indianapolis and Miami.
The summer will start with Thomas and Kennard manning the starting OLB spots and the others either trying to nail down the MLB role or solidifying their status on the depth chart.
Robinson is the favorite to win the opening in the middle, but Brinkley will challenge him. The Giants real hope is that Goodson can impress early and win some reps. He appears to be the future in the middle of the Giants' defense.
The team has their fingers crossed when it comes to Kennard. He has yet to play a full season, missing eleven games over his first two seasons with hamstring issues. If he is healthy, he will make a huge difference on the defense.
Kennard has changed his workout regimen and hopes to be in better condition as he enters his third season in Blue.
"I am not worried about the past," Kennard told reporters back in April. "I had some hamstring issues and a foot issue last year and I am making sure I change the way I train and going into [year three] now I have learned a lot and I have just moved past all of that and I am not worried about all of that. It is a new year, new opportunity and I feel like what I have been doing this offseason is going to prepare me to play, God willing, 24 games."
He was asked what he is doing differently to ward off another hamstring issue.
"It is just the way I have been training," he said. "[Increasing] the amount I train throughout the day and doing a lot of hamstring stuff. The hamstring really out of nowhere became an issue in the past, but like I said, I am not worried about what has happened these last two seasons, it is all about this coming year and that is behind me."
The Giants brought in as many veterans as the could the past few years in hopes Kennard can get past his injury woes. If he can, they will be a better team for it. If not, they will roll the dice and go with quantity over quality once again.
The team has a new LB coach this season in Bill McGovern and he will be charged with making something out this mish-mosh of a unit. McGovern wants to bring the unit back to it's historic prominence, but he has to know that the talent level is nowhere near what was back in the day. He's going to have to hope Kennard's health holds up and the competition within the group drives the level of play upward.