New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (94) reacts after...

New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (94) reacts after sacking Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young during the first quarter of an NFL football game. (Sept. 26, 2010) Credit: AP

Most players get to choose between teams when they are free agents. Mathias Kiwanuka was able to consider the position he wanted to play as well.

A natural defensive end, the former first-round pick of the Giants said he had opportunities to go to other squads and be a traditional hand-on-the-ground pass rusher. He'd probably have been good at it, too, and in the past, he's expressed a preference for that kind of role. But ultimately, he decided to return to the Giants on a two-year deal. And he knew that would mean less time at end and more time at outside linebacker.

"It was discussed before I came back," Kiwanuka said of his placement in the scheme here. "I knew exactly what I was getting into. They had an idea of what kind of packages they were going to put together. I signed off on it because it's fun to be out here with this group making plays."

Since becoming able to practice Thursday, Kiwanuka has been a linebacker.

"It's something I've played before," he said. "There are a lot of different things I can do out of it. I'm glad our defense is put together the way it is."

He took the starting strongside job away from Clint Sintim and has been lining up in a two-point stance over tight ends and H-backs. Tom Coughlin said it likely will stay that way regardless of whether Osi Umenyiora returns to the field for the team.

That really is a statement about the development of Jason Pierre-Paul, whom the Giants must believe is ready to be a starting defensive end for them. He's looked good and confident in practice and the coaches said he is playing with less congestion.

"There were times he did play slow," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said of Pierre-Paul's rookie year. "I think he was just unsure and not confident . . . He's off to a very good start."

Nunn said it's hard to project just how good Pierre-Paul can be. "There's no question this kid is talented," he said. "He's a very unique player. I've been around the league 12 years and I have not coached one that he compares to. He's kind of his own guy."

And if he can handle the end spot, that would allow the Giants to keep their best linebacker at linebacker. Kiwanuka is the only proven playmaker of the bunch at the position, and having the flexibility to play him there makes the defense much better.

"Being out here and able to play as a linebacker and then being able to rush as a defensive end is probably the best fit for me," Kiwanuka said. "Then I can learn the entire defense and I can be used in a number of different ways."

Kiwanuka's fate has always seemed to hinge on Umenyiora. He was moved to linebacker in his second season because of the logjam at end and wound up breaking his leg during the year and missing the Super Bowl run. He came back the following year ready to be a linebacker, but Umenyiora injured his knee in the preseason and Kiwanuka moved back to end to replace him.

Last year, with Umenyiora coming off a disappointing season, the two were set to duel for the starting job. Umenyiora technically won it, but Kiwanuka's versatility probably worked against him. He again was bumped to a hybrid position.

Now, though, Coughlin is saying that Kiwanuka will be a linebacker on his own merits, with or without Umenyiora. That may be his best fit. And the best fit for the Giants.

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