By Ernie Palladino
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Run the ball, stop the run.
The Giants have heard that philosophy since Tom Coughlin took over as head coach in 2004, and even before that. It’s a common refrain throughout the NFL.
So how does that relate to the draft, which starts on Thursday night at 8 p.m.? Well, the Giants didn’t do the latter part of the equation too well last year. They ranked 25th in the league in defending the run, a weakness that went a long way in comprising the NFL’s 31st worst overall defense.
Though there is support for taking an offensive tackle such as Florida State’s Menelik Watson there, ostensibly to green up an aging offensive line, if you go for real need then the run-stopper is more important. Will Beatty is healthy once again and should take full command of the left tackle spot. James Brewster is hopefully ready to compete for the starting left guard spot, and David Diehl, David Baas and Chris Snee still have another year or more left in their tanks, so the O-line remains solid.
The run-defense, however, still leaves much to be desired. In eight of their last 10 games, the Giants allowed no less than 110 yards on the ground, with highs of 248 against Washington and 224 against the Ravens.
That bumped the per-carry average up to a deadly 4.6 yards, making it painfully obvious that for all the potential pass-rush ability they possessed — potential stifled time and again as Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul struggled with injuries and the double-team — opponents could also run over them.
So think linebacker at No. 19, and perhaps another one on Friday or Saturday. The need is great there, considering that Michael Boley is gone. Besides that, general manager Jerry Reese said it’s likely that strong-side starter Mathias Kiwanuka will see more action up front, where he can put his considerable pass-rush skills to better, more consistent use.
Start putting the name Alec Ogletree in your mind. He’s an inside linebacker from Georgia. At 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds he’s a bit undersized, and he’s got some baggage. He was suspended four games for substance abuse last year, was arrested for theft as a freshman and was arrested for DUI less than two weeks before the NFL Combine.
Still, in eight games last year, he collected 52 tackles, 7 1/2 of them for a loss. If he can refine a sometimes shaky tackling form, the underclassman could be a good fit for the Giants.
So, too, might defensive end Cornellius Carradine of Florida State, but not because of his run-stopping ability. He’s an edge rusher, and the Giants showed with Kiwanuka in 2006 that they have absolutely no problem with drafting supplementary pass-rush in the first round. The same could go for Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones if he falls past New Orleans at No. 15. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt called the Jones/Ogletree combination the best pair of linebackers he’s had in Athens in 12 seasons.
This is one year, though, where the pass-rush should make way for run-stopping ability, providing that the Giants go defense at all. It would not be outlandish for them to surprise everyone and pick a pass-catching tight end — think athletic Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame here — even though they just picked up Oakland veteran Brandon Myers in free agency. Youth, speed and leaping ability is always a plus in that area.
If anyone from Notre Dame comes to the Meadowlands it will be Eifert, and not linebacker Manti Te’o. There is way too much baggage there, real and imagined.
That’s a longshot, though. The Giants have a glaring need at linebacker. Outside of getting the best available player — which could well be Ogletree, anyway — that’s where the concentration of the first two days needs to be.
Who do you like the best out of Alec Ogletree, Cornellius Carradine and Jarvis Jones, Giants fans? Let us know in the comments section below…