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Wilkinson's season of opportunity never shaped up

New York Giants linebacker Gerris Wilkinson stretches during

New York Giants linebacker Gerris Wilkinson stretches during NFL football training camp in Albany, N.Y. (Aug. 2, 2010) Credit: AP

Last spring, after the Giants had parted ways with Antonio Pierce and had an apparent opening at middle linebacker, one of the players most excited about what that opportunity meant was Gerris Wilkinson. He had been a third-round draft pick in 2006 and then signed a third-round tender from the team as a restricted free agent for the 2010 season because of the labor unrest.

Wilkinson felt like he would get an opportunity to compete for the job at middle linebacker. And he took a few snaps there in the spring and during training camp. He even changed his jersey number to 58 - Pierce's old number.

But he wound up playing just one defensive snap on the field this season. And it didn’t come until a goal-line situation against the Redskins in Week 17.

“That was my only snap,” Wilkinson said with a chagrined smile on Monday while cleaning out his locker, most likely for the final time. “I had very high expectations. I set some very high thoughts for myself in terms of opportunity to play linebacker. It never really came to be. But I still enjoyed the year. I didn’t let it spoil my season.”

He did play special teams and had eight special teams tackles. But he also missed four games with a broken hand. He’s only played a full 16 games once in five seasons, and that was his rookie year when he made two starts.

When they write the book on Wilkinson’s career – and they’re probably just polishing off the final chapter – injuries will play a big part in the story. I asked Wilkinson if at any point this season he thought that he might have been better off had the Giants not offered him a third-round tender last offseason and just allowed him to walk so he could sign with another team where he might have been able to get on the field more often. Bryan Kehl was waived by the Giants earlier this season and wound up becoming a starting linebacker for the Rams.

“That’s crossed my mind,” Wilkinson said. “But when I look at the big picture of things, I’ve grown up as a player here so it’s been a pleasure. They stuck with me through some tough times of injuries and, well, mainly through all the injuries. For me to say I wish they had let me go when they stuck with me is kind of (strange). I felt like everything played out the way it should. I don’t have any type of ill feelings or anything like that.”

At least Wilkinson’s perspective has managed to remain healthy.

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