Jonathan Goff wants to be the Giants' starting middle linebacker. It's just a lot easier for him to show it on the field than it is for him to talk about.
Goff, who answers most questions with an intense stare and words as compact and dense as a week-old muffin, tends to dance around verbalizing his chances. Ask him how he's doing and he'll tell you the entire defense is playing well. Nudge him toward speculating on his role in 2010 and he says he just wants to contribute any way he can.
Neither Goff nor the rest of us will get the answer to the big question this week. Nothing he does in this minicamp for the Giants will win him the starting middle linebacker job for the opening game. Nor, likely, is anything he does apt to disqualify him from it. Those deciding moments will come in August, once the pads are on, the hitting starts and the team is in the throes of training camp.
But if Goff remains on his game over five practices during three days this week beginning Tuesday, he'll at least head into Albany as the front-runner in a three-way (or maybe more) competition to be Antonio Pierce's replacement at the hub of the Giants' defense.
"That's what it's all about," he told Newsday this week, allowing just a sliver of personal desire and ambition to leak out.
Goff, who became the starter at the position late last season and had a few bright spots - a sack and an interception - to go with some teachable moments, will be battling rookie Phillip Dillard, a fourth-round draft pick from Nebraska, along with veteran Gerris Wilkinson, who has been re-energized by the move from outside linebacker. In organized team activities this spring, Goff has taken the majority of the reps with the starting unit. Dillard has been mostly with the twos while Wilkinson appears to be third on the depth chart.
But this isn't the Goff we saw in those final, floundering games of the 2009 season.
"When he first started last year, you could tell that there was a little bit of nervousness," said outside linebacker Michael Boley, the only returning full-time starter at linebacker for the Giants. "Now it seems like all of that is gone and he's flowing with the scheme."
Goff credits the time he had on the field last season for helping to prepare him for this battle. "Just being out there at game speed and seeing everything live is invaluable," he said.
It actually put Goff ahead of schedule. When he was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, it was with an eye on him eventually replacing Pierce. The Giants probably envisioned that change taking place during this offseason. When Pierce was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his neck after Week 10 last year, it moved the timetable up. Chase Blackburn, who has been taking reps this spring at outside linebacker but could still be a factor in the middle, started the first two games in Pierce's absence. Then Goff stepped in for the final five games.
Boley said he likes what he sees from the competition taking place next to him on the field. "I'm pretty impressed seeing the progress we've made since Day 1," he said. "I think it's a good battle. You've got a couple of guys who, as professional football players, that's what we're made to do is compete."
The competition continues this week, and it will continue on into August. It's a trajectory, and Goff sees competition and improvement on the same axis.
"We're just on a steady ride going up and up," he said. "Me, individually, and as a team."
THREE QUESTIONS FOR GIANTS MINICAMP
What will Perry Fewell's new defense look like?
So far, we've been able to catch glimpses of the schemes during OTAs and spoken to players about their roles. This week is the first time we'll get to see exactly how all of the pieces fit together.
Can Ramses Barden contribute in 2010?
The rookie was a training camp all-star last summer, but vanished once the regular season began. He spent the offseason working on refining his routes and his knowledge of the pro game. The Giants are expecting those details to catch up to his talent and make him a weapon at wide receiver.
How will the winds blow at the New Meadowlands?
The Giants will get to work on their new home field for the first time Tuesday afternoon (a session that is open to the public). There's been plenty of speculation about how the winds will affect play, but this will be the team's first chance to experience it firsthand. Keep an eye on how the punters, kickers and passers adjust.