The Giants and their linebackers. There was a time when they were synonymous with one another and were the pride and heart of the organization. These days they are, as the Boss says, "spare parts and broken hearts."
Of the ten LBs the Giants will have in camp this summer, only two were drafted by the team and none before the fifth round. The club has not invested a first round pick on a LB since Carl Banks back in 1984. Since then, they've pretty much gone with free agents, walk-ons and castoffs.
The centerpiece of the corps is Jon Beason, handed over via a trade last year with Carolina by old friend Dave Gettleman, the
Panthers' new GM. The Giants surrendered just a seventh-round pick for Beason, who walked right into the aimless LB unit and took over. The club re-signed him to a five-year deal with the hopes that Beason could stay healthy and continue to commandeer the defense.
Those hopes were dashed two weeks ago when Beason broke a bone in his foot and tore ligaments which will lay him up until the beginning of the regular season. His absence has opened up the competition at LB between rookies, free agents and incumbent veterans.
One of the rookies looking to stake a claim is fifth-round draft pick Devon Kennard out of USC. Kennard is a smart, athletic young man who the Giants plucked in the draft because of his maturity and versatility. Like many of his college teammates, Kennard fell in the draft due to the volatility of the program the past few seasons.
"His college career he played everywhere. He had like I think three different coordinators at USC," explained Giants LB coach Jim Herrmann last week at minicamp. "When he was there with Monte Kiffin he was a MIKE. He played in that system. So for him, he’s played all over so he’s got multiple talents and he’s a smart guy so it’s not anything new for him. And he gives us a lot of flexibility. He has some rush ability so on third down he could actually be a rush-type guy. The flexibility helps us. As you go into the season there are 46 guys out there, normally the linebackers get maybe five guys so somebody has to know dual roles and we’ve always had guys that could do that. He’ll give us that ability."
Kennard will also make his mark on special teams, just like one of his older teammates, Jacquian Williams did a few years back. In minicamp two weeks ago, free agent Jameel McClain was slid into Beason's MLB spot and Williams saw a lot of action at the WLB position. Spencer Paysinger was given first crack at SAM with Kennard getting plenty of reps as well.
"This OTA and minicamp he did a great job in our base stuff as a WIL," said Herrmann of Williams. "He’s a natural WIL in nickel, he did a great job with our WIL stuff in base. To me he made a big jump and big improvement this spring."
Another player in the mix is UDFA Dan Fox of Notre Dame. Fox was miffed he was not invited to the combine and then was dissed again in the draft. He's got a lot to prove this summer, but his odds of making the roster are long. Still, Herrmann has liked what he's seen so far.
"To me he’s another guy, one of the young guys who’s got a lot of intelligence. He can play multiple roles. He actually played all three spots this spring, MIKE, SAM, WIL, he plays in our sub. Any time you’ve got a smart guy like that who football just comes natural to him, that gives him a chance. "
The Giants have taken the low road in building a LB unit. The loss of Beason for the beginning of the season hurts, but it looks like the Giants contingency plan could just work out.