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New York Giants position breakdowns: Outside linebacker

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Outside linebacker is next up in our series of New York Giants position-by-position breakdowns. This is another position where improvement is necessary for the Giants to play better defense in 2010.

The question is, do the Giants already have the players they need to facilitate that improvement? Or, is this another of the multitude of defensive positions Jerry Reese needs to find a way to upgrade?

Let's look at the players individually and find out.

Danny Clark: A 10-year veteran, Clark presents a real conundrum in trying to figure out what to do about the Giants outside linebackers going forward.

  • He is a journeyman, and your head tells you that at this point in his career Clark should not be a starting linebacker in the NFL.
  • Your eyes tell you Clark is abominable in pass coverage, and the stats prove that your eyes don't lie. In 2009quarterbacks had a 127.5 rating throwing at Clark, according to Pro Football Focus. Only two linebackers in the NFL who played at least 25% of their team's snaps were worse in coverage. In 2008, quarterbacks had a 115.2 rating throwing at Clark, making him seventh-worst in the league.
Yet, there are other things about Clark that make you shake your head and think maybe, just maybe, he isn't as bad as you want to believe. As hard as it is to admit -- and I am loathe to point it out -- Clark has easily been the Giants' best linebacker against the run the past two seasons. It is a sad truth, but it is the truth.
  • Watch a Giants game and he is just about the only linebacker who ever makes a play in the backfield. Not that he makes them often, but name another linebacker who is ever in the backfield. Didn't think you could.
  • The run stats don't lie, either. As bad as he is against the pass, in 2009 Pro Football Focus rated Clark +7.6 against the run. Well, that's nice but you say you don't care? Well, consider that is the same score posted by NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing. That is 9th in the league overall for 4-3 outside linebackers against the run. A misprint, or an anomoly, you say? In 2008 Clark was +10.5 against the run, sixth in the league among 4-3 outside linebackers.
  • Overall in 2009 PFF rated Clark at +7.4, again 9th among 4-3 outside linebackers. In 2008? Try +7.9, good for 11th in the league.
So, maybe not so fast in getting rid of Clark. I know he is 32, his contract is up and it would be easy to just let him walk away. But is that really the smart thing to do? I'm not sure anymore.

Michael Boley: Boley's first season as a Giant after being signed from Atlanta as a free agent was a mixed bag. There was some good play, but also some bad play. There was a one-game suspension. There were injuries that caused him to miss all of training camp, four regular-season games and likely affected his play much of the season.

I don't think we have seen the best of Boley yet. At least, I hope we haven't. The guy is more athletic than any outside linebacker the Giants have had in quite a while, and I really want to see what he can do with the benefit of a full, healthy training camp.

In 2007 Boley was clearly one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in football and appeared headed for stardom with the Falcons. He racked up 125 tackles and three sacks that season. Want a better way to measure how impressive he was in '07? Pro Football Focus ranked him as the best 4-3 outside linebacker in football with a +25.2 score. Seattle's Leroy Hill was second. His grade? A +10.7. so, Boley was nearly 15 points better than any outside linebacker in the league that season.

In 2008 Boley fell out of favor -- and out of the Atlanta starting lineup -- leading to his signing a lucrative free-agent deal with the Giants. In 2009, Boley did not come close to flashing his 2007 form.

He did make 103 tackles in 11 games, but PFF rated him as a less-than-stellar -9.3 for the season. Look further, and it was run defense that was the biggest issue, as Boley was -6.8 in that category.

Think about that a second. Boley, at 223 pounds, did not hold up well against the run. He also spent most of his time with Osi Umenyiora, whose pitiful run defense has been well-documented, lined up right in front of him. Anyone else see a huge problem here?

I do think, though, that Boley is a pretty good player. Maybe not 'best 4-3 outside linebacker in the league' good, but a quality player who can be part of the solution for the Giants troubled defense.

I just hope we see him fully healthy in 2010.

Xt

Clint Sintim
(via
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Clint Sintim: Ah, what to make of Sintim? In training camp, we thought he would at least become a pass-rushing force off the edge. Then he got hurt and missed a bunch of time. Then he admitted that he really had no clue where to line up or what to do as a 4-3 outside linebacker. Then, before you know it, the 2009 second-round pick's season was pretty much of a washout. Sintim had just 26 tackles and one sack in very limited duty.

Sintim may yet be a very good NFL player. I sure hope so, because he could be a difference-maker in the front seven. He has lots of raw strength and athleticism. Question is, though, why did the Giants draft him in the first place? The larger question is why do the Giants continue to draft players like him -- 'tweeners who really don't have a true place in their defense.

Mathias Kiwanuka comes to mind. Bryan Kehl, who was a 3-4 college linebacker now trying to fit into a 4-3 defense is another.

Now there is Sintim. He was a 3-4 outside linebacker at Virginia, and before the 2009 NFL Draft the consensus was he would fit best in the NFL on a 3-4 team. So, what did the Giants do? They snatched him up, of course.

So, what is Sintim? I'll be darned if I know. Is he fast enough to play pass coverage as a 4-3 outside linebacker? He might be, but right now he doesn't know how? Is he a defensive end? He can rush the passer from that spot, but at 256 pounds he can't hold up against the run. Besides, if he is an end doesn't that just make him a Kiwanuka clone? And it seems the Giants don't really know what to do with Kiwi, either. So, what good is that? Could Sintim be a middle linebacker? He has the size and strength, but if he can't figure out how to play outside does anyone really think he can learn to play -- and lead -- a defense in the middle?

Bryan Kehl: I like Kehl, but he is another example of why the Giants have struggled so much over the past decade to draft and develop play-making linebackers. Kehl was a 3-4 outside linebacker at BYU, and the Giants have tried to use his athleticism to turn him into a 4-3 weak-side linebacker. Unfortunately, he does not seem to have the aggressiveness or the true feel for the position. When it comes to linebackers, why do the Giants keep doing things like this? If you are going to run an aggressive 4-3 scheme then draft linebackers who have played that scheme collegiately and proven they can do it at a high level. Don't draft guys whose skills you 'think' will translate. Given a full-time chance, Kehl might be adequate. In other words, he might be Danny Clark. I doubt he is going to get that opportunity, though. He seems destined to be a special teams player and a backup with the Giants.

Gerris Wilkinson: I'm tired of watching this guy take up roster space and do nothing to earn it. He MIGHT have talent, but he can never stay healthy long enough to show it. Time for the Giants to cut ties with Wilkinson and give someone else a chance.

Conclusion: In the end, my guess is the Giants let Clark go and give Sintim a full shot at the strong-side linebacker slot. That is probably the right move, because Sintim has to play for the Giants to find out what they have. A have a suggestion for Jerry Reese, though. Please, please, Jerry if you draft any outside linebackers or bring in any as free agents make sure they are guys who have experience doing the kinds of things defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will be asking of them. No more square pegs in round holes. Please!

Keep: Boley, Sintim, Kehl

Dump: Clark, Wilkinson

Draft/Free Agency Priority (1 being the highest, 5 the lowest): 3-4

(E-mail Ed at bigblueview@gmail.com)