Giants still unsettled at linebacker; visit with RB Hightower

The SportsXchange

Mention the New York Giants' linebacker position to any Giants fan, and chances are they're likely to cringe because the team didn't use any of its eight picks going into last week's NFL Draft on a player at the position.

But just because none of the players drafted have the "LB" designation by their names doesn't mean that the team has finished addressing the position.

"We're really not comfortable with any position, to be honest with you," said general manager Jerry Reese. "We try to upgrade our positions until we get ready to play and that's a position we will look at just like other positions we'll look at."

One of the things that the Giants have been looking at is the crop of undrafted free agents, where perhaps a young prospect will emerge from the shadows to earn a roster spot.

However, it's looking more and more like the Giants will instead look toward those they already have to anchor the position. The projected starters are Keith Rivers on the strong side, Dan Connor in the middle and Jacquian Williams on the weak side. The current depth includes Mark Herzlich (inside) and Spencer Paysinger (outside).

The Giants also have the option of moving defensive linemen Mathias Kiwanuka and Adrian Tracy back to linebacker, especially if someone from the young group that includes Justin Trattou, Adewale Ojomo and third-round draft pick Damontre Moore steps up this summer.

There is also the option of using sixth round pick Taylor Cooper, a big-sized safety, as a pseudo linebacker in the team's three-safety package, a formation that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has used a great deal of against pass-happy opponents.

And then there is the likely possibility that the Giants might look to add a veteran who might become available after June 1, the date when teams can cut high-priced players without absorbing a massive hit on their 2013 salary cap.

The Giants, who explore all of their options when it comes to player personnel, are probably going to keep a close eye on the waiver wire starting next month and all the way through the end of training camp, when more guys become available as part of the mandatory roster reductions.

"It might be the week before we line up to play Dallas (on opening day) before we have the roster ready because you'll have some 53-man cuts," Reese confirmed. "There will be some people left and we'll continue to look for players to help our football team."

So yes, the team's management is indeed aware of a need at linebacker, and it will continue to search for the right pieces to make sure the coaches have what they need in order to improve on the 9-7 record they've posted in each of the past two regular seasons. But the job is far from over for the Giants' front office.

"Free agency is part of the puzzle and the draft is part of the puzzle," Reese said. "Obviously, we still have some work to do."

NOTES, QUOTES

--It's unusual for a draft pick not taken in the first round or two to generate so much buzz before he even has a chance to step onto the field, but that's precisely what has happened with the Giants' selection of quarterback Ryan Nassib in the fifth round, a player for whom they traded up six slots to get.

Forget about the fact that the Giants have a durable, two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback in Eli Manning already on the roster. The selection of Nassib is drawing a lot of buzz for the simple reason that Reese and Director of College Scouting Marc Ross both weren't reluctant to say that they hope Nassib never has to take a snap for them.

"Of course, every draft pick you want to be a Hall of Famer even though that's not the reality," said Ross. "With taking Ryan, there's nothing like having a security blanket like that where we think he can be an excellent backup with the ability to start in time."

Still, what about Manning?

"Of course you want Eli Manning to play and stay healthy and be there," Ross said. "But we think Ryan has a starter upside and starter ability. Whether that's here or for someone else, we don't know. Hopefully that flourishes while he's here."

--The Giants re-visited with former Cardinals and Redskins running back Tim Hightower this week. Hightower, who first met with the Giants last month after the start of free agency, is being considered for a possible role as the team's third-down running back. However, he's unlikely to sign with the Giants until after the team has a chance to look at some younger prospects during its annual rookie minicamp on May 10-11.

--The Giants' training camp will begin on Friday, July 26 when the players report. The team's first practice will be Saturday, July 27. Practices, which will be held at the Timex Performance Center, the team's East Rutherford, N.J. headquarters, are expected to be open to the public.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Stable is a great word. It is probably even more stable." - head coach Tom Coughlin on the Giants quarterback situation following the team's selection of Ryan Nassib out of Syracuse in the fourth round of the draft.
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