EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — While Jon Beason recovers from a broken bone and torn ligament in his right foot, a veteran and a rookie will get long looks as starting linebackers for the New York Giants.
Beason will not need surgery, but is out at least through July — training camp begins late in the month — and perhaps a lot longer. It’s conceivable that the man who helped stabilize New York’s defense after being acquired from Carolina in midseason last year won’t be ready by the season opener at Detroit on Sept. 8.
That leaves plenty of room for Jameel McClain, entering his seventh pro season, in the middle of the defense. And for Devon Kennard, a fifth-round draft pick this year out of USC, to prove himself on the outside.
Coach Tom Coughlin seemed comfortable enough Tuesday with both of them.
“I think we go forward with what we have. We’ll be OK,” Coughlin said at the team’s mandatory minicamp.
The defense wasn’t OK in 2013 until Beason arrived. The two-time All-Pro then sparked a turnaround, joining the Giants when they were 0-5; they finished 7-9. A three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Beason had 98 tackles and New York’s defense finished eighth in the league overall after being near the bottom of the rankings.
Now, it’s up to McClain, late of the Ravens, to plug the hole in the middle — literally and figuratively. And for Kennard to do the same on the outside.
“This league is about opportunity and a chance for players to show themselves,” said McClain, who earned a Super Bowl ring with the 2012 Ravens, when he started 13 games. “Fortunately, we will get Jon back, so we’re blessed to have that, but what we have now is a chance for a lot of people to step up and step into positions that they normally wouldn’t have been in. That’s always good for a football team, diversity.”
McClain has played both inside and outside linebacker, and says he’s fine at either spot. Coughlin likes that versatility.
“He’s been in there before,” Coughlin said. “He’s playing in there, he’s played on the outside, so it’s just a simple move.”
Nothing is simple for a rookie in the NFL, and should Kennard wind up a starter, he’s sure to be tested by opposing offenses.
For now, he’s being tested learning schemes, mastering the defense under coordinator Perry Fewell.
“I’m spending hours and hours in the playbook every day, every night,” Kennard said. “I go home and I’m studying for hours so I get there and I get those live reps, and it’s getting easier and slowing down. I’m making more and more plays and making more of an impact, and that’s all I’m trying to do. I want to play my part and show that I can help the team.”
McClain and Kennard provide a nice mix, even if one or both wind up as a backup. McClain has learned from two of the best linebackers of the last decade, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.
Of course, he’s never been asked to be the main cog at linebacker with those two around in Baltimore. Things could turn out different with the Giants as long as Beason is out.
“Responsibilities always change,” he said. “With great opportunity comes a lot of responsibility. Getting people lined up and doing things that I’m normally accustomed to is just something that I will bring to it. It’s something that we will all bring to it, so everyone gets a chance to learn what it’s like to be the man, to be the middle linebacker, to make the calls, to get it all right. That makes a great defense when everybody knows what to do.”
Kennard nods when asked if he’s had an intensive education so far, learning from the likes of McClain and Beason, who has attended meetings and remained a part of the locker room scene.
“All of those guys with experience are kind of bringing me along and showing me the ropes and showing me the tapes,” Kennard said. “I watch film on them a lot just to see how they do things — the little things, the vet tricks that they have that I try to pick up on and implement. Just showing different things. Disguising, showing different coverages, blitzing, how you’re showing your blitz when you’re not. Different things like that just to kind of toy with the offense.”
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