While the Giants have enjoyed amazing consistency at the quarterback position, relying on one player alone to start each game for the past 12 and a half seasons, they have not enjoyed such stability when it comes to the quarterback of their defense.
This will be the seventh consecutive year the Giants open the regular season with a new starting middle linebacker. And right now, less than a week away from kickoff, they can’t even say who that will be.
The likeliest candidates are a pair of free-agent acquisitions in Kelvin Sheppard and Keenan Robinson. It certainly won’t be Jasper Brinkley, who ended 2015 with the job and competed for it throughout most of training camp, since he was released on Monday. The answer likely won’t be established until the Giants take the field. Or, more accurately, until the Cowboys do.
“It depends on what package we’re in,” Ben McAdoo said of who would start. “We can throw a variety of linebackers out there. I think Kelvin has definitely earned an opportunity. He showed well in the preseason games and has done well in practice. He’s a great communicator and we’re excited to have him here.”
Sheppard would seem to be the base middle linebacker, and Robinson the middle linebacker in nickel or dime packages. The Giants also have rookie B.J. Goodson, who could see snaps at the position this season but is unlikely to start in this year’s opener.
Next year’s opener, perhaps? The Giants seem to be hoping so. That would make him the eighth new starter in eight seasons. If he can keep the job for a few years after that, they’ll take it.
So how ragtag have the Giants been at starting middle linebacker? Five of the six previous opening-day starters are no longer in the league, a list that includes Jon Goff (2010), Greg Jones (2011), Chase Blackburn (2012), Jon Beason (2014) and Uani ‘Unga (2015). The sixth? He doesn’t really exist since the Giants played mostly sub packages with three safeties in 2013. Mark Herzlich was considered the starter that season until they traded for Beason in October. No one since Antonio Pierce in 2009 has opened the season with the job in consecutive seasons.
“Ideally, just like the offense would like the one quarterback to stay under center for all three downs, we would like to have the same thing,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of the middle linebacker job in the preseason. “We may or may not have the luxury of doing that so we’ll figure it out as we go.”
At middle linebacker, the Giants always seem to be.