The X Factor: The Giants new breed of linebacker
by Adam Nardelli | Contributor
Points were easy to come by any opposing offenses of the Giants in 2014, vastly contributing to their 6-10 season. The first losing campaign in a decade for Big Blue could be put largely on the shoulders of the defense.
The Giants gave up the third most rushing yards among defenses last season. The unit was slightly better against the pass, but still only good enough to finish with the 17th ranked passing defense in the NFL, nothing to exactly hang your hat on.
The injuries in the secondary and the lack of a dependable pass rush for much of the season contributed to ever-growing defensive struggles. The linebackers did nothing to help elevate the play of the defense in their own right.
With most outsiders pointing to Jason Pierre-Paul (not a hand injury), Prince Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins as the key players that will reverse the fortunes of the defense in 2015…the linebacking corps feels like it could be the x factor in the upcoming season.
The linebackers, led by Jon Beason, have been a group ravaged with injuries (in particular to Beason) and short with talent the past couple of seasons. The Giants knew the linebackers had to become a priority, and the front office utilized free agency as its first step in doing so.
The new additions of veterans J.T. Thomas from Jacksonville and Jonathan Casillas from New England provide much-needed depth at the position. Thomas managed 84 tackles and 2 interceptions in 2014 with the Jaguars after starting ten games, and Casillas gives the defense a quality option at weak-side linebacker with the departure of Jacquain Williams.
The new-found commitment to the linebackers was essential; however, bringing in quality young, hungry backers was even more important. The biggest upside to this group will be second-year player Devon Kennard. Kennard emerged as a reliable pass rush option, coupling 4.5 sacks in his rookie year. If Kennard can continue to make strides as a pass rusher while honing up his skills against the run, he could become a permanent fixture for years to come. He has a great combination of size, speed and nastiness.
With more uncertainty facing the defensive line after Jason Pierre-Paul’s fireworks incident, it’s becoming even more certain that the linebackers could dictate how improved the defense is as a whole in 2015 and for the first time in several years, barring injury the Giants might have a group of linebackers that can make a difference.
The combination of veteran presence with Beason and Jameel McClain, depth with Thomas and Cassilas, and youth with Kennard, the linebackers could be an unexpected bright spot in a defense surrounded by questions and uncertainty.