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Mathias Kiwanuka takes 'long road' back to defensive end

With Jason Pierre-Paul out because of back surgery, Mathias Kiwanuka will not only be playing defensive end but could be counted on to become a force there.

The Giants will be counting on Mathias Kiwanuka for plays like this in 2013
The Giants will be counting on Mathias Kiwanuka for plays like this in 2013
Al Bello

Many New York Giants' fans have clamored for the past couple of season to see Mathias Kiwanuka make a full-time return to defensive end. Head coach Tom Coughlin said today that they will get their wish "for the time being."

The back surgery undergone by Jason Pierre-Paul this week means that Kiwanuka will, for now and possibly early in the 2013 NFL season, be thrust into a starting role at right defensive end. Reporters in attendance at today's OTA indicated Kiwanuka, an eight-year veteran who has split time between defensive end and linebacker in recent years, took first-team snaps in Pierre-Paul's spot during the workout.

'That was the position I came into this league playing and I'm looking forward to the opportunity.' - Mathias Kiwanuka

The return to defensive end might only be obvious now with the injury to Pierre-Paul, but it's not news to Kiwanuka.

"That decision was already made. That was a decision we made going into this year. Having another man down means that we've all got to step up and I'm ready to do the job," Kiwanuka said. "That was the position I came into this league playing and I'm looking forward to the opportunity. Obviously, we would love to have him back and I'm sure he'll be back ready to go at a certain point, but we're not going to rush him back for any reason."

Defensive line coach Robert Nunn said Thursday that the Giants have really looked at Kiwanuka as a defensive end since the middle of the 2012 season.

"We felt like in the middle of the season, towards the end, that Kiwi wasn’t really comfortable with what we were asking him to do. And so we felt that he would be more comfortable at defensive end.," Nunn said. "We were able to tell him that early and he has come in here and he is really off to a good start with what we can do in the OTAs and throughout minicamp next week. So he looks solid."

Kiwanuka has 30 career sacks, with his career-high being eight in 2008. He had four sacks in three games in 2010 before missing the rest of the season with a neck injury.

"It's been a long road for me. I've been starting at multiple positions. I've been up and down and back and forth. Moving around and changing... that's not the big deal to me," said the 30-year-old Kiwanuka. "The big deal for me is going out there and making sure that I do my job correctly and when I get the opportunity, I make the best of it."

With Pierre-Paul, their best defensive player, possibly missing time at the beginning of the season the Giants need Kiwanuka and the plethora of young players behind him to do just that. Kiwanuka thinks they can.

"There's no doubt," Kiwanuka said. "I think in addition to what we've got so far, we're ready to go. We have a good group of rookies coming in and added some quality veterans."

Kiwanuka's belief in youngsters like Adrian Tracy, Damontre Moore, Adewale Ojomo and Matt Broha is certainly going to be tested.