Giants' defenders Kenny Phillips, left, and Keith Bulluck exchange greetings...

Giants' defenders Kenny Phillips, left, and Keith Bulluck exchange greetings during practice in Albany. (Aug. 2, 2010) Credit: Newsday /Jon Winslow

Middle? Outside? Keith Bulluck doesn't have a preference for where he lines up as a linebacker.

"I'm comfortable on the football field," the veteran said, trying to clear up any confusion about what position label he should fall under. "Outside is where I've been trained in base defense the last eight to 10 years, and the last five years I've been playing middle linebacker in the nickel package.

"So it really doesn't matter to me. What I'm told, that's exactly what I'll do, and I'll be effective at it either way."

The Giants brought Bulluck in just before training camp to add depth behind Jonathan Goff at middle linebacker. But Goff never lost his grip on the starting job, and a few weeks ago, the team decided to move Bulluck back to his natural position at outside linebacker.

Was it a vote of confidence for Goff? A condemnation of Bulluck's progress in the middle? Concern about second-year linebacker Clint Sintim, who seemed stagnant outside?

It might have been all of the above that encouraged the move. But when the Giants line up to play the Panthers in their opener Sunday, you can expect them to have Goff in the middle, flanked by Bulluck and Michael Boley.

Bulluck seems to expect that, anyway. He even had some chin-up advice for Sintim, who had been penciled in as the starter since the end of last season.

"I just told him you can't control what goes on around you, you can only control what you do," Bulluck said. "Don't get discouraged, because they drafted him in the second round for a reason. He's definitely going to be playing football here."

Just not in place of Bulluck, if he has a choice.

"I'm a three-down linebacker," Bulluck said. "I'm not used to coming off the field, and I like to be there. I like to be on the field every play."

No one would have doubted Bulluck's place as a starter had it not been for the torn ACL and surgery that ended his 2009 season prematurely. Of course, without that injury, he probably wouldn't be a Giant, either. He was cut by the Titans, the only team he had known, and went about rehabbing from surgery on his own until he signed with the Giants.

Not only did he have to get his knee back in shape, but after a decade of playing in the same system, he had to open his mind.

"I would say it's probably the best preseason camp that I've had, just because I basically had to go back to basics," he said. "I've had to learn that new defense. I've had to learn new terminology, learn new people, new coaches and players. So for me, it's been overwhelming mentally, and I think that I've handled it."

Especially now that he is back in his comfort zone, playing outside in the base looks and in the middle on some of the sub packages.

"I think that Jonathan Goff was doing a great job all preseason and showed the coaches that he can man the middle," Bulluck said. "So as of right now, I would think that I would be playing the outside. But I've also proven that I can play the inside and have the knowledge of the defense."

That may be why last week, Bulluck said he was told by coach Tom Coughlin not to worry about positions or whether he is a middle or an outside guy. Just practice hard, Coughlin told Bulluck, and make sure he's in football shape, because he'll be needed Sunday.

"So it's not unclear to me," Bulluck said of his role. "It's just that I don't have a definitive answer."

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