Giants general manager Jerry Reese met with the media today one week before exercising the 15th pick in the NFL draft and spoke only in generalities with the goal of not tipping his hand. But whether help comes from within the current roster or from the draft, there's no escaping the fact a defense that collapsed toward the end of last season must be shored up.
Reese declined to discuss the need to replace middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and how that might affect his plans with the first pick. But the GM did identify rookie linebacker Clint Sintim, a second-round product from last year's draft, as a player who might be part of the solution.
"I think there's some linebackers on our team that need to prove they can do it," Reese said. "Just like last year I thought there were some receivers. I do have some confidence in some guys on our roster. I do think they haven't played a lot, but I want them to step out of the shadows and show us what they have. I do expect that, but that won't preclude us from continuing to look at that position."
Last season, the Giants were concerned about shoring up the wide receiver position. Veterans Steve Smith and Mario Manningham stepped up and played well. But the Giants still drafted two wideouts, Hakeem Nicks in the first round and Ramses Barden in the third round. Nicks was one of the top three receivers by midseason, and you could see a similar approach with the linebackers this year.
Besides Sintim, Reese listed second-year linebackers Jonathon Goff and Bryan Kehl and fourth-year linebacker Gerris Wilkinson as players who need to show what they can do.
"Sintim was a high draft pick," Reese said. "When you're picked in the second round, we expect you to play. The first three picks, you always expect those guys to contribute right away. He didn't play a lot last year. He flashed a little bit in a couple of games, but we expect him to really come on along with some guys who have been here a little bit longer than him to show us what they have. Hopefully, in this sophomore season, [Sintim] can get in there and really get it going."
Since the offseason began, Reese has taken steps to address the defensive problems with the addition of free-agent safety Antrel Rolle, and he's hoping for the return of a healthy Kenny Phillips. In Reese's view, injuries had a lot to do with the defensive breakdowns that occurred.
"Last season, I thought we had a lot of depth going into the season," Reese said. "We had some injury issues, and when you don't rush the passer up front real well, it affects the back end. I don't care who you have back there. Then, we had some injuries in the secondary, Kenny Philips, Aaron Ross. Their season was basically a wash because they didn't play much.
"Then, the linebacker situation, [Michael] Boley had two surgeries during the season. You can bang on me, but the injuries are what they are. When I say that kind of stuff, it's not like I'm using it for an excuse. It's what happened. When you don't have enough depth to overcome that, it makes it difficult for everybody involved."
Because of the injuries that limited running backs Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and D.J. Ware, that's another position that could be a concern for next season. Reese said the medical and training staff told him: "We're going to have a strong, healthy roster for training camp. That's exciting for me to hear that."
But how much can you rely on full recovery in this game? It will be interesting from the perspective of Giants fans to see what happens with Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain and Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, both of whom are projected anywhere from just inside the top 10 to the middle of the first round. They are clearly a cut above at their position, so, the Giants might have to look elsewhere if neither is available. As much as Reese has invested in the defensive line, he reinforced the idea that you never can have enough help for the pass rush.
When it comes down to the actual decision, Reese leans more toward drafting the best athlete rather than for specific need. "We try to get value and need," Reese said. "That doesn't change. Sometimes, you can get a good combination of both. We're skeptical of drafting for need."
One thing Giants fans don't have to worry about is Reese focusing on a player who was a workout warrior at the scouting combine as opposed to a productive player throughout his college career. "What they do on the field is most important to us," Reese said. "We're looking for football players, not gymnasts."