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Giants Glad They Landed Dillard:


The Giants’ top choice for a new middle linebacker was off the board before they even made a pick in this NFL draft. So it took three days for them to fill the biggest hole in their lineup.

But they weren’t exactly unhappy with the way things worked out.

“We weren’t going to force anything,” said Marc Ross, the Giants’ director of college scouting. “We don’t do that. When you force players and think it’s a need, you get burned. We were going to wait for the right person at the right time.

“And we feel strongly Phillip Dillard is that guy.”

Dillard is the 6-foot, 245-pound middle linebacker from Nebraska whom the Giants took in the fourth round (115th overall) saturday – two days after Alabama’s Rolando McClain, their top target, was picked eighth overall by the Raiders. It may have seemed like an excruciatingly long wait for the Giants to plug the hole they created when they cut Antonio Pierce in February. But it wasn’t for them.

They’ve been tracking Dillard for months, and if McClain was gone, drafting Dillard was apparently their alternate plan. In fact, Giants GM Jerry Reese said they discussed taking the “tough, instinctive, smart, hard-hitting” player one round earlier. They had him rated that highly, and Reese believes he’s good enough to compete with veterans Jonathan Goff, Chase Blackburn and Gerris Wilkinson for that vacant starting job.

“Well, we’re going to put him in there and give him a chance with the rest of the guys,” Reese said. “We have some unproven guys, so we’re going to throw them all in the till and see who gives us the best shot to win games.”

It’s a huge opportunity for Dillard, who seemed to be off the NFL’s radar after tearing his ACL in 2006 and suffering an ankle injury in 2008. He was way off at the start of the 2009 season when he was reportedly out of shape and didn’t even play in the first two games. But, playing behind defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh – the second overall pick in the draft – Dillard still ended up with 83 tackles and three sacks.

And it wasn’t all just because he was playing behind Suh.

“He’s a great player, a phenomenal player – one of the best that I have seen in years,” Dillard said. “But (Nebraska coach Bo Pellini) told some of the scouts that if I wasn’t behind (Suh) that he wouldn’t have made a couple of plays because they had to game plan for me, too.”

Whether or not that’s true, the Giants still liked him enough that they passed over more heralded middle linebackers like Florida’s Brandon Spikes and Penn State’s Sean Lee – both of whom were taken in the second round on Friday, after the Giants took defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Ross said the Giants considered Dillard in Round 3 on Friday, when they took LSU safety Chad Jones instead.

Then they held their breath overnight because they didn’t have any other middle linebackers rated “in that range” and might have ended up not taking one in the draft if Dillard was gone.

“I’m glad it worked out the way that it did,” Dillard said.

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