Jon Beason might be done for the season with his foot/toe injury. If that is the case, Beason's absence opens a door for rookie linebacker Devon Kennard to show that he can become a prominent part of the future -- and the present -- for the New York Giants' defense.
Kennard, a fifth-round draft pick out of USC, excited both the Giants and their fan base with outstanding work in training camp and the preseason. He looked like much more than a typical fifth-round pick in the preseason, leading the Giants with 17 tackles, and showing some pass rushing skills with a sack and a pair of hurries from his outside linebacker spot.
Then, Kennard lasted all of two snaps before suffering a hamstring injury in the season opener against the Detroit Lions. He did not play defensively again until last week, sliding in on the strong side when Beason was forced to the sidelines. Kennard played 23 snaps, 22 of those in run defense. Linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said this week that he saw "some good things" from Kennard.
"It was good to see him get out and get some game experience because that is invaluable for a young linebacker. He was able to go in and perform. He did his job. Those are the things you are looking for," Herrmann said. "You can always help him keep growing as a linebacker. The other guys love him. He’s got a great personality and he wants to be great. To me, that’s what you want. I think we’ll see some really good things out of him. He’s what you want."
Jameel McClain will slide to the middle if Beason, as seems likely, is sidelined for the remainder of the season. Kennard then becomes the SAM, meaning he would be on the field any time the Giants are in the traditional 4-3 base defense. When Beason has been out of the lineup the Giants have generally used McClain and Jacquian Williams in two-linebacker sets.
Considering Kennard's potential as a pass rusher off the edge it will be interesting to see how -- of it -- the Giants are able to work him into those situations.
"I think the biggest things that he has to learn are the pace of the game, know who he’s playing against, the type of runner and the type of passing game. Those are the things that I think more experience will help him and make him more aware," Herrmann said. "Some of the older guys, they’ve been in the game, they’ve been in those situations. Now it’s his turn. They’ll help him grow because they’re all good guys, they all want to see him succeed."
No matter how they use him, getting snaps for Kennard -- the most intriguing linebacker the Giants have drafted in a long time -- has to be considered a good thing.