This is the first installment of Giants position previews for the upcoming 2018 season. This will be an in-depth look at each position heading into training camp that begins on July 25th.
SLB: Alec Ogletree, Ray-Ray Armstrong
MLB: B.J. Goodson, Mark Herzlich
WLB: Lorenzo Carter, Calvin Munson
ON THE BUBBLE: Thurston Armbrister, Tae Davis
KEY LOSSES: Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, Devon Kennard
Antonio Pierce. Harry Carson. And of course, Lawrence Taylor.
That's who the Giants think of when the linebacker position is brought up. However, that sort of production has been lacking from this group recently, and the same can be said last season as well.
The top three backers last season were Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, and Keenan Robinson heading into Week 1. Kennard and Casillas were the leaders in the room, having been on the team together since 2015 (Kennard was drafted by the Giants in '14). And Robinson re-signed with the Giants after impressing in 2016.
But this group couldn't channel the Giants' legendary linebackers of the past, as 2017 was a year to forget.
There wasn't much production from the linebacker position as opposing teams targeted this group, especially in pass coverage. Tight ends and running backs thrived in situations where there was coverage from a Giants linebacker. The numbers prove it.
The Giants allowed 923 yards to tight ends last season, which was second-most allowed by any NFL team. And even worse was an NFL-high 12 touchdowns allowed as well.
Injuries also plagued this unit last year. Casillas only saw eight games, where he totaled 24 tackles, and Robinson's concussion issues and quad injury ended his season after six games. Kennard was on the field for 15 games, but he only tallied 24 combined tackles. He did, however, has four sacks.
Because of the injuries, players like rookie Calvin Munson, B.J. Goodson, and Curtis Grant had to take over. Munson and Goodson didn't do too bad on paper, with Munson collecting two sacks and 35 tackles while Goodson had 37 tackles over seven games. But, again, coverage plays and the lack of sideline-to-sideline play killed this group.
There were no real upgrades to stop this from happening in 2017, and it showed the second tier had too many holes for opposing teams to work with.
Biggest Question Heading Into Camp: Can Alec Ogletree's leadership turn things around?
The Giants' new regime has transformed many key positions for this team next season, and there was no shortage of upgrades for linebackers.
One of those changes was bringing in veteran LB Alec Ogletree, who was traded by the Rams to the Giants. Playing five years in the NFL with the Rams, Ogletree has solidified himself as one of the top linebackers in the league. Last season, he totaled 63 combined tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble over 15 games.
Ogletree not only brings great play to the position on the field, but he is also considered a leader with Casillas, Kennard, and Robinson all sent packing for next season. The only problem is new defensive coordinator James Bettcher's 3-4 scheme.
The 26-year-old worked in a 3-4 system with the Rams when Wade Phillips took over in Los Angeles. It was said that one of the reasons the Rams traded him was because he didn't fit the scheme, and couldn't grasp the concept quick enough.
Ogletree is being relied on heavily to bring this group together, especially with Goodson and rookie Lorenzo Carter projected to work next to him. The veteran must buckle down to show he can work in this scheme, and in doing so, become the leader this linebackers room desperately needs back.
Out with the old, in with the new.
The Giants didn't bother to re-sign any of their starters from Week 1 last season, and instead went with a new group to fit Bettcher's system. Goodson is expected to have a bigger role this season, and he has said he is up for the challenge to be the MIKE linebacker. Ogletree could assume that position as well, but I expect him to stay on the strong side with Goodson in the middle for most of the snaps.
The rookie Carter was a huge pickup for this team in the third round of this year's draft, as his speed to reach both sidelines makes him great against the run. He is also a known pass rusher, and with Bettcher's linebackers expected to be sent at the quarterback at whim, Carter fits the job description perfectly.
But can this group stay together through all 16 games? It's tough for any defensive player to stay on the field all season long, especially regarding linebackers. But the Giants' depth isn't a good security blanket. Munsion returns as well as veteran Mark Herzlich. After that, question marks surround this group.
This trio of Ogletree, Goodson, and Carter have the skill set to be great under Bettcher's scheme. Expectations are high for this coaching staff, and in turn, my expectations are high as well. Mediocrity at this point, especially with the history surrounding Giants' linebackers, isn't an option.