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MLB

MLB, for us it does not stand for major league baseball it means middle linebacker. It’s a position that for me is number two on the list of issues the Giants have with their roster, number one being tightend. I have discussed tightend so now it’s time to take a look at the middle linebacker position. In the NFL you have two basic types of defense, the 3-4 and 4-3. The Giants run a 4-3, as we all know that means four down lineman and three linebackers, the SAM, strong side linebacker, the WILL, weak side linebacker and the MIKE, the middle linebacker. The quality of the middle linebacker in Perry Fewell’s defense is very important for it to succeed.

At the beginning of this past season we thought we were pretty much set at middle linebacker, he was doing a good job. He was not elite though and if possible the Giants would have improved the position. Jon Goff was playing well and improving, maybe he was on his way to being an elite MIKE. The reality is we will probably never find out, he went down from the dreaded torn ACL. This is the type of injury that takes a long time to heal, the reason is that it stops a player from lateral movement, it may heal enough for a player to run in a straight line but it’s the side to side movement that it hinders for a long time. Linebacker is a position that requires a lot of side to side movement so the question is does Goff come back right away and play to the level he did before, I truly doubt that. Since he is a free agent I think the Giants should cut ties with him and move on. Do you want to pay a player who can’t play? The Giants don’t know if or when Goff will come back to play. I don’t think Reese will do that as evidenced by what happened with Steve Smith who had 102 catches. He was not signed and Reese proved he knew better than the Eagles GM who signed an injured player that never contributed to the team. With the cap space situation you cannot waste a dime, you must make every penny count for your roster. To tie up money in a player that has such a huge question mark would be imprudent.

The Giants were thin at linebacker to start the season and the Goff injury really hurt the team. It was so bad that Reese had to call Chase Blackburn who was sitting on his couch to come back and play. Fortunately it worked out for the Super Bowl winning Giants and Chase has another ring. It’s not a long term solution, it never was, Chase is a good player and special teams leader, he is not an elite middle linebacker, not even close. In fact there are question marks all across the back of the line. The only player who has proved to be on an elite level is Michael Boley. He was playing lights out then had some injuries he came back from. Although he did not look 100% he played well enough. I wonder what his situation is, is he injured, is it a minor thing, is he injury prone? We have linebackers who are good football players but none have shown to be elite star quality players, yet.

So what do the Giants do for a middle linebacker? As far as I can see the type of defense Perry Fewell likes is the Tampa 2 which calls for a certain type of MLB. He must be quick and able to cover in that middle zone. You will see many times the MIKE run at the snap of the ball into that middle zone and sink his hips waiting for a receiver to cover. Yet he has to be stout enough to take on interior lineman on running plays, stack and shed them to make a tackle or penetrate and shoot a gap or even effectively rush the passer on a blitz. That is a lot to ask one player to do, where do you find this guy? We tried drafting a Tampa 2 type MLB in 2010, Philip Dillard, who did not work out and as far as I know is out of the league. Greg Jones was drafted in 2011 and is not the answer, he’s a good special teams player but does not look like the answer at the MIKE. He was given a chance and did not perform well. Mark Herzlich looked better but got injured. I don’t think Mark is the answer at the mike either for a Tampa 2, he just does not have the cover ability, more of a SAM type and backup for Kiwi. I think he has a possible future at the SAM position. Another linebacker who looked good is Spencer Paysinger but at 6’2” and 236 I do not think he is the answer either, he seems like more of a specialist and backup for Boley.

So even if we resign Goff there is an issue because we don’t know if and when he can play and Blackburn is not the answer. What do the Giants do, what should they do? I say forget Goff he just isn’t that good and it may take another season before he can play the way he did before. The Giants have to focus on filling this most important spot on the defense now. Boley can always call the defense since he is a three down player and has done it before. It’s more about getting a linebacker who can also be a three down player, which means one who can defend against the run and the pass. So if that player cannot yet call the defense which is usually handled by the MIKE that’s OK. It’s more about performance until the player can make the calls. That would be much more of a factor if the Giants draft a player and start him at the MIKE or sign a linebacker who played outside and moved him inside.

As I go down the line of free agent middle linebacker I am not enthusiastic about any, at the top of the list is Stephen Tulloch 5’11” 235 from the Lions, that’s not a very big man, I really prefer the middle linebacker to be bigger but with the Tampa 2 type defense it’s not necessary to have a big space eating MIKE, it is more important to have a jack of all trades type. Next up is D,Qwell Jackson 6’ 240 with the Browns, he seems to be another possible Tampa 2 mike type that might do well in Fewell’s defense. David Hawthorne 6’ 240 pounds from the Seattle Seahawks and Curtis Lofton from the Falcons are also free agent linebackers who might just be targets of Reese. After that there isn’t much out there and Chase Blackburn at this point might be as good as the rest. Those players mentioned will probably get paid more than they are worth, does Reese over pay a bit because of a bidding war? Do those players see a chance at a super bowl win like Rolle did and sign with the Giants? The Giants had success with Antonio Peirce, do they see if we can repeat that with signing another free agent for the position? I think Jerry Reese will go in this direction before he will draft a middle linebacker with a high draft pick since we don’t really have a high draft pick.

The draft is weak in terms of upper tier linebackers. I discussed this before, most college linebackers are not well prepared for the NFL. They are a gamble and you just don’t know what you are getting even though they might be great athletes and college stars. Many are college defensive ends turned linebacker because they are too small for that position in the NFL. Many are just rush linebackers with little cover skills. Some are just too small and too slow to play safety or linebacker in the NFL. Many are called tweeners, they do not really have a position in the NFL. Sometimes you find one of these tweener guys that do turn into great linebackers, it may take a few years to develop them, the Giants can’t wait to find out. Reese has been trying to find one of those lower tier players and develop them, he has not hit on one yet with a mid to late pick, even the second round pick Clint Sintim has not worked out. He was that rush type linebacker and never could learn to cover well, being injury prone he’s coming off his second knee operation. I don’t see Sintim as the answer at any linebacker position now.

Looking at the draft I am not enthusiastic about what’s available. I’m going to include all top tier linebackers not just middle linebackers because the NFL is so different than college and a position change is a possibility. One linebacker in particular I think would be a monster in the middle is Courtney Upshaw at 6’2” and 270 pounds. He’s a big hitter and can cover, this is a middle linebacker, he looks like one and plays like one. I think he would be perfect for Fewell’s defense in the middle, since Manti Te’o stayed in school this is my choice. To get him we would have to move down, some draft sites have him going in the second round, I think he will be gone by the twentieth pick in the first round. Vontaze Burfict is also a big hitter that plays with passion and is a true middle linebacker but he has some issues. He has good size at 6’3” 250, the questions are is he coachable and is he going to be a good citizen and not get into trouble, the NFL does not stand for players who misbehave anymore. In reality it’s a situation where the Giants pick last in the first round and will lose out on the really good prospects. This has been happening for a few years because of the Giants success, they have not had a chance to pick one of the top tier linebackers in the draft, and this year is no exception. We had one top 15 pick and that turned into JPP.

Maybe Upshaw falls but I think he’ll be gone by the time the Giants pick. In my opinion so will the other top tier linebackers, Luke Kuechly who is very highly rated at 6’2” and 237 pounds is small and a little slow, although he is a good football player, I don’t see greatness there, he will probably be gone when the Giants pick. As will Dont’a Hightower a huge man at 6’4” and 260 who maybe better suited for a 3-4 defense and possibly Audie Cole another big fast linebacker. I don’t know how good their cover skills are, they might not be best suited for Fewell’s defense anyway. To me after them there is a big chasm and the players on the other side are huge question marks as even the highly rated players are. We will know a lot more after the combine and pro days were we can see how they stack up physically against the other college linebackers. I’m sure Jerry Reese will pick one of those players if they fall to the Giants, I don’t see him moving into the top 15 to get one of them, he would have to give up too much in the way of draft picks although Upshaw might be worth the gamble. You can bet he will pick one or more of those second tier prospects later in the draft hoping to find a gem, he hasn’t found one yet doing that. You always hope you hit pay dirt and pull out a diamond in the rough in the mid to late rounds of the draft.

I’m not going to make a list of those second tier players until I see their combines and get more reports about their performance. It’s hard to get film on these players but after the combine a lot more shows up on the internet. Between that and their showings at the combine and pro day we can all get a better idea of who is a defender and who is a pretender. My feelings are that Reese ‘should’ move to get Upshaw and put him in the middle, have Boley call the game and keep Chase Blackburn as a backup or starter until Upshaw can take over. The other option is to sign a free agent, one of the players I spoke about. Jerry Reese is a conservative GM with a super bowl winning team and I think he’s going to clear cap space to sign one of the linebackers I mentioned and maybe even a lower level free agent backup, it really depends on the available money in the cap.

Reese likes players who are versatile and can play more than one position so take that into consideration and he might target that type of linebacker. I think because of the situation the Giants will run out of numbers in preseason and you’ll see some tightends with numbers in the forties until the roster is set. Reese might end up over paying for one of those linebackers because he has to, they’re hard to find and at a premium in the NFL right now. He probably will also draft at least one in or around the fourth round as he has done in the past depending on how many compensation picks we get. There are other needs for this team and there will be a lot of new faces. Jerry Reese is going to have to replace some players, with the toughest schedule in the NFL next season I can only think we will be picking in the top 10-20 in 2013’s draft like we did when we drafted JPP. If that is the case I am hoping Manti Te’o is a Giant in 2013. For me that would end the drought of not drafting great linebackers for the Giants. How about getting Upshaw and then Te’o the next year, I can dream can’t I, I’m also a fan so I’m allowed to have fantasies, right. Realistically I see Reese signing a free agent to take over right now and drafting a second tier linebacker later in the draft as a project and special teams player. But don’t be surprised if Reese drafts a pass rushing defensive end with the thirty second pick, I wouldn’t be, remember you can never have enough pass rushers.


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11 Responses to “MLB”

  1. CMH says:

    He’s obviously not a glamour boy but it’s hard for me to imagine a MLB playing much better than Blackburn did down the stretch.

    He’s not that talented but his performance was exceptional.

  2. Drew says:

    I remember you guys loving Akeem Ayers last year. How do you think he did this past year? And what about Von Miller, taken 2nd in the draft. Did you talk about him because I don’t remember too well

  3. Ralph says:

    Really? We have to refer to you as big daddy? ANYWAYS! So Hakeem Nicks at 29 and Kenny Phillips at 32 and Kiwi at 32 aren’t good picks? I don’t understand what you are getting at? Finding good players in picks 1-10 is the same as 10-250. AB, Boss, Jwill, Diehl all guys that are 4th round an after. You don’t need a early pick to get good players….ask the lions. This is 2012, you don’t need a great MLB, if you can geta Brian urlacher than sure that’s great but MLBs only really play 15-20 plays a game on this team. You need cover guys, like Boley and Williams. Having either Goff (if healthy) or Blackburn or even Herzlich is fine. A 4-3 defense is about the line and the secondary. The giants have the right formula and won 2 superbowls with it. Fans cry for linebackers because they remember LT and Banks, and Carson….that was over 20 years ago and they ran a 3-4!!!!!! This D is about rushing the passer and playing tight coverage. If they do that they don’t need great LB play, just good. Boley and Williams can cover, that’s the good part, too many good tightens nowadays.

    • Big Daddy says:

      You clearly do not understand the the job of a MIKE in a 4-3, or for that matter the job of a linebacker. But Ralph keep being a good fan and support your team nd Giants Gab. If you would like to enlighten me and think I am wrong in my accessments by all means lets talk about it, I enjoy that.

      Pick out one point and lets discuss it.

      BUT

      You don’t have to start your comments with a disrespectful statement about what is just a moniker, for you, that means nickname. On the internet it’s called a screen name.

      AND

      Ralph, please use paragraphs so you don’t read like a rant by a political crackpot.

      If I have to call you ralph which is another way of saying to puke I think Big Daddy isn’t too bad. Sorry to say Ralph it’s true, no you don’t get what I am saying.

      You think having Blackburn right now as your starting Mike is OK, really, good luck with that. Or giving money to a player who is injured and wasn’t that great to begin with is a good idea on how to use your precious cap space.

      Yes I am Big Daddy, that is my name, you don’t have to refer to me as Big Daddy, you can call me BIG.

      Go back and read some of my other blogs, specifically about the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. The fact is as any GM will tell you with a 4-3 you need better LBs than a 3-4.

      Yessss all those great linebackers we have from the middle and late round draft picks, wow. I like Jerry Reese as a GM, the best in the NFL, but we still have not scored some good linebackers. In a 4-3 you don’t need great ones, you need really good ones who are able to have a more comprehensive skill set compared to a 3-4 LB.

      I clearly explain that the reason there is a problem right now in the NFL with linebackers is the college game. They are not prepared and need time to learn what they missed in college. Some can walk in and start, most can’t.

      The successful ones are usually helped along by the DC who simplifies their responsibilities and lives with their mistakes because of the fact they also make big plays.

      I like Chase but the starting MLB, after he was let go and sitting on his couch. We got lucky he was fresh and understood the defense, he did just enough as not to hurt the defense and made some good plays down the stretch.

      But you are OK with him as the starting mike now after all those years of not being able to do it. Now he all of a sudden he miraculously is a so much better football player….LMAO. People have short memories.

      I remember when people complained about Pierce the pro bowl MLB being too slow and not covering the better TEs in the league let alone RBs. Read a bit about the Tampa 2 Ralph.

      • Ralph says:

        No need to take offense to the comment about your “name” it was a real question, thought maybe you would say “you can call me BLANK” or somthing like that. Sorry if I don’t use paragraphs, but there isn’t any need to insult my intelligence, and my REAL name. Dont be one of those idiots that poke fun at people for silly things like paragraphs and puncuations, we dont have to be scholars to give an opinion about our team. It just make you look bad. Just trying to not take up too much space and keep it in one nice compact little space. You think because you write for a small scale giants website it makes you smarter then anyone commenting? I know just as much about any type of defense as you. We disagree on what we think is important for a certain kind of team. I know the responsibilities for every member of a cover 2. I also don’t think we run a pure Tampa 2. Just look at our corners responsibilities and it is VERY clear that its not a pure tampa 2. I think a 4-3 team with a great pass rush and good covering secondary is MUCH more important then good LB corp. We won 2 superbowls with below average LBs, proof is in the pudding. Oh sorry new paragraph?

        “Better” LBs is relative to the D. In a 4-3 the LBs have to be able to do more, that dosent make them better. With a 3-4 the defense is more about the LBs playing great. The steelers, patriots, and ravens have shown that for years. A 4-3 can get by with below average LBs and a 3-4 CANT. That is my point. Again, sorry If I offended you with the bigdaddy comment, but I thought I could have a more mature conversation with someone with a real name.

        • Big Daddy says:

          I said to use paragraphs so people can read what you wrote.

          Who cares about grammar? We care about football.

          No this makes ‘YOU’ look bad.

          Ralph read some books about football and listen to people who are trying to help you.

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