Giants

Mathias Kiwanuka Ready To Dominate As Full-Time Giants Linebacker

Mathias Kiwanuka (credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Mathias Kiwanuka (credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – When Mathias Kiwanuka was talking to the Giants during free agency, money wasn’t the only thing on his mind.

Just as important was his position.

The defensive end, who was turned into a linebacker and then back into a defensive end and then back to linebacker, wanted a little permanence.

The Giants gave it to him.

Kiwanuka played three games as a linebacker last season before suffering a season-ending neck injury, and that’s exactly where he is going to play again this year. There is no more shuttling between linebacker and D-line meetings. When Kiwi goes to class, it is with the linebackers.

“I am a linebacker,” Kiwanuka said Wednesday. “I always keep those pass rush skills, those defensive line skills. I have been doing that for years. That’s not an issue. When it comes down to it mentally, and in terms of all that boring stuff, I am linebacker.”

Listen: Mathias Kiwanuka with WFAN’s Mike Francesa

Kiwanuka got his first taste of game action in more than 10 months last weekend when the Giants opened the preseason against the Panthers in Carolina. Playing about a quarter, he had one tackle.

“I’ve been through this before, unfortunately,” said Kiwanuka, who missed the final six regular-season games and the Super Bowl run in 2007 with a broken leg. “The first game back from an injury, whether it’s preseason or not, it’s always good to get out there. The adrenaline is going to be pumping regardless of the circumstances. I felt good coming out of the game, and I feel good going forward.”

At the end of last season, Kiwanuka wasn’t very clear. He suffered a herniated cervical disk three weeks into the season, and not only was his future with the Giants uncertain because of free agency, so was his injury-plagued career.

Once the new collective bargaining agreement was reached, Kiwanuka went on the market and most teams seemed interested in signing the five-year veteran as a linebacker.

Kiwanuka said the hard part was evaluating the teams that wanted him, trying to see where he fit in.

“Money does factor into it, but you have to take the best opportunity to get out there and perform,” said Kiwanuka, who settled for a two-year deal worth $8.6 million. “You can go out and sign a contract for a team where you don’t fit. But I was trying to find the best all-around team.”

Kiwanuka felt the Giants offered that, especially with Perry Fewell returning as the defensive coordinator.

While Kiwanuka only played three games last season, it could be argued that he was the best defensive player for that period, recording 16 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble.

“He knows how to use his personnel and my versatility,” Kiwanuka said. “A lot of that has to do with Perry, who is going to put people into position to make plays.

“And he’s done a good job at that.”

In Fewell’s system, Kiwanuka plays a joker. He a true linebacker on first and second downs, and a pass rusher on third, when the situation permits.

“The beauty of having a guy like Perry on your side is he is going to use his personnel well,” Kiwanuka said. “I think I got off to a good start last year before the injury. And I was very happy and comfortable with the way I was being used.”

Kiwanuka has looked quick in training camp and the only noticeable difference is that he now wears a tiny neck brace – a precautionary measure.

Looking forward to the season, Kiwanuka is excited about a defense that features Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul up front, along with a secondary anchored by cornerbacks Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas and safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips. The Giants, led by their defense, went 10-6 last season.

“There is tremendous potential,” Kiwanuka said. “That’s No. 1. We have a great core group of guys who have obviously worked hard in the offseason. The thing that puts us in great position is having Perry. He is going to call the right number at the right time. If we live up to our potential, we’ll be a dominating defense.”

Good enough to beat the star-studded Philadelphia Eagles?

“It looks good on paper, but the games still have to be played,” he said. “We all have confidence in the guys in this locker room.”

Is Kiwanuka best at linebacker? Break it down in the comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)