Giants OLB Devon Kennard has had high hopes pinned on him ever since the club selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of USC. His first two seasons were cut short by injuries and he is determined to play an entire season this fall.
"I don't think it is any bigger than any other year," Kennard told reporters last week at the team's minicamp. "I look at every year the same. It is a great opportunity for me and I like the role that they are asking me to play and what they are asking me to do. I am excited for what this year is going to entail."
What they are asking him to do is stay on the field, make plays and develop into the leader they thought they were drafting two years ago. The Giants have brought in several veterans and rookies to challenge Kennard this summer at trining camp, but if he can stay healthy, he will be a starter at linebacker on the outside.
Head coach Ben McAdoo, not to put any undo pressure on his players, currently downplays urgency and importance on who will start where, but the time will come soon to start putting the lineup in pen rather than pencil.
"It's a big year for everybody," said McAdoo. "It's a blessing to be in that locker room. It's an honor, and everyone has the opportunity to make a huge impact- he's definitely one of them."
The Giants love the dynamic that a healthy Kennard brings. He is considered an all-around talent at OLB, complete with pass-rushing abilities. He spoke about his approach to the team's training camp, which begins at the end of July.
"It is a work in progress," said Kennard. "You have to accelerate your training this offseason; the rest of the offseason, so when you come in, you can hit the ground running. If you take too much time off or you are not training hard enough and you come and have an intense practice, you can put yourself in jeopardy and that is for the whole team, so that is something they told us to make sure we take care of."
As for acclimating to all the changes on the defense, a unit that could potentially have six new starters, Kennard is excited.
"I think we made a big jump this offseason," he said. "It is a great group of guys that came in through the draft and free agency and gelling with the guys who have already been here. It has been great so far."
Last season, the Giants' defense was a mess of unit, undermanned and devoid of top talent due to injuries and lack of sufficient depth. Returning DC Steve Spagnuolo had a difficult time implemementing a game plan, not knowing who would be available week to week to execute it.
This offseason, GM Jerry Reese went out and procured an army of new faces. Kennard believes the second year of the plan will go much smoother.
"I think the guys just understand the defense more, including myself," he said. "Everybody knows their role, knows what is expected of us and we are ready to take the next step. We have a chip on our shoulder about how we played last year, and I think we have more understanding of what the defense and what Coach Spags is asking of us and we want to go out and produce every day."
With Kennard on the field more, the Giants will have a leader in the middle of their defense that has been missing for several years now. It is very possible that this unit can go from the league's worst to one of it's best in just one offseason.