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Positional Reviews: Linebacker ... Where, Oh Where Have The Great Ones Gone?

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In our series of 2010 New York Giants positional reviews, we come now to linebacker. This is definitely not a happy place. A position of great prominence in Giants lore it has been virtually ignored for many a year now, and it's sort of like a run-down old buidling. Inhabitable, but not desirable. Or a beat-up old car. It runs, barely, but you know that you desperately need an upgrade.

Let's hope general manager Jerry Reese recognizes this. For years, the Giants -- Reese in particular -- under-valued the safety position. Until, that is, in 2009 putrid play from the safety position basically made it impossible for the Giants to play anything remotely resembling quality defense. We know that Reese responded by aggressively moving to upgrade the position via both free agency and the draft.

It seems that in recent years the Giants have done the same thing at linebacker. Under-valued and de-emphasized the position, largely trying to fill it with mid- to late-round draft picks and veteran cast-offs. In 2010 the Giants pretty much tried to play with as few linebackers on the field as possible. That's a far cry from the days of Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, Brad Van Pelt and even Jesse Armstead.

You might, at best, call the current crop of Giants linebackers serviceable. For the defense to be truly and consistently dominant, though, I believe the Giants need something they don't currently have -- real impact players at that level. I would hope Reese and the Giants look at linebacker somewhat the way they did safety a year ago and aggressively try to upgrade it.

All of that said, let's move on to a look at the individual players.

Jonathan Goff: The third-year player from Vanderbilt did OK in his first season as a starter, which is a lot better than many of us thought he could do. Many of us cringed at the thought of Goff being the starter at middle linebacker, but he held his own. He will never be Ray Lewis in his prime, the question really is 'how much better can he get?' Using the Pro Football Focus numbers, Goff scored a +10.2 overall, 22nd in the league among middle linebackers who played at least 25 percent of their teams defensive snaps. Against the run, Goff was +14.5, ninth in the league. So, his reputation as a two-down thumper proved true. Problem is, Goff played just 700 snaps, 34th in the league amongst middle linebackers. Problem is, he started every game. That tells you there are too many situations, passing ones, where the Giants just don't want him on the field. That's not a good thing for a middle linebacker. Overall, I think Goff did an acceptable job at middle linebacker. Would I like an upgrade? Sure. Do I think it's a priority? No. I think the Giants need better players on both sides of him, to be honest. Overall Grade: Kwillie

Michael Boley: Let me be honest here. I am not a Michael Boley fan, so read my review with that in mind. Boley had 108 tackles for the Giants this season, the second-highest total of his six-year career. He graded out at a +7.8, according to Pro Football Focus (13th among 4-3 outside linebackers) and was one of just nine outside linebackers to play at least 75 percent of his team's defensive stats. All of those nice numbers aside, I just don't like Boley's game. At 223 pounds, he is a finesse linebacker who does not stand up well at the point of attack against the run, where he graded -2.8 in 2010, according to PFF. He has never shown the pass-rushing skills the Giants hoped to see when they brought him from Atlanta. He is OK, but not spectacular in coverage, and he is athletic enough to make plays in space. Ask yourself, though. In two seasons, has he made any memorable impact plays? I can't think of one. I would love to see an upgrade here, but again I think the Giants have other fish to fry. I can live with the guy, I just wish he wasn't lined up behind Osi Umenyiora so often. I think that gives opposing offenses an obvious place to run the ball. Overall Grade: Kwillie

Keith Bulluck: The guy has had a terrific NFL career, but if he wants to continue it next season he needs to do it in another uniform. Bulluck made just 41 tackles, lowest since his rookie season of 2000, in very limited duty with the Giants. He graded at +8.7 per PFF (+5.6 against the run), but how the Giants felt about Bulluck showed in how many snaps he played -- or didn't play. Even in some running situations Bulluck was off the field and safety Deon Grant was in the game. Bulluck played just 315 snaps, 40th in the league among 4-3 outside linebackers. Here's a question, by the way, for Perry Fewell. If Bulluck is good against the run and Boley isn't why was Bulluck off the field instead of Boley so often on early downs? Anyway, Bulluck is a great guy and all but the Giants need an impact player there they trust to leave on the field. Overall Grade: Wet Willie

Clint Sintim: You guys know where I'm going with this one. The Giants expected Sintim to be the play-making outside linebacker they desperately need, and it just isn't happening. Two seasons and Sintim still doesn't seem able to grasp the conversion from a 3-4 outside guy to a 4-3 linebacker. Made just 19 tackles this season, which is fewer than the 26 he made as a rookie. Memo to Reese: When you draft a linebacker this year -- and you will draft one in the early rounds or there will be a mutiny here at BBV -- enough with this drafting guys who played 3-4 in college and need to be converted. Find a guy who has played in a 4-3 and you don't have to 'project' into that scheme. So far, that approach is not working. Grade: Wet Willie

I really can't grade guys like Phillip Dillard, Gerris Wilkinson or Chase Blackburn since we really never saw them. Though I should give Wilkinson a 'Wet Willie' simply on the grounds that he has been useless to the defense for years now.