COMMENTARY | If you could turn back time and find a way to dust off the shoulder pads of a former New York Giant to help the current club, who would it be?
For me, the choice is crystal clear--Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the man who changed the outside linebacker position from a read-and-react to an attack style.
An obvious choice? Perhaps, but my reasons extend beyond the obvious.
Besides being one of the greatest defensive players in the game's history - Taylor's 132.5 career sacks still rank among the game's best - the Giants linebacker situation over the last several years has, to put it kindly, been in a constant state of flux resulting in underwhelming performances.
The last time the Giants opened up back-to-back seasons with the same three starting linebackers was in 2002 and 2003, when they fielded a lineup of Brandon Short, Michael Barrow, and Dhani Jones.
Of the linebackers who have taken the field for the Giants since then, only Antonio Pierce, the team's middle linebacker from 2005 to 2009, has had the longest staying power in what's otherwise been a parade of different names and faces to grace the starting unit.
Although the Giants put more emphasis on their defensive line and secondary, I believe that by having at least one player on every unit that a team can build around, the reward is consistency. The Giants have not had a linebacker around whom they've been able to build that unit since Pierce.
A solid linebacker unit can also be a plus against both the run and the pass. In 2012, the Giants defense finished 31st out of 32 teams in total defense after allowing an average of 383.4 yards per game to opponents. How bad was that? The league-leading Pittsburgh Steelers defense surrendered just 275.8 yards per game to opposing offenses.
Although the Giants defense finished fourth in the league in the take-away/give-away category with a +14 ratio, they still allowed opponents an average of 129.1 rushing yards per game and 254.3 passing yards per game. Those numbers--especially the rushing yards--are ones that head coach Tom Coughlin has said he'd like to see improved in 2013.
Could a player like Taylor help improve those numbers? One can speculate endlessly, but consider this. In 2012, the Giants' leading tackler was safety Antrel Rolle (108), a statistic that might mean that too many ball carriers were making it past the linebackers and to the defensive secondary level, the result being a three- or four-yard run turning into eight or nine yards, or more.
During his prime, Taylor rarely let a ball carrier get past him. He did it all -- rush the quarterback, clog up the running lanes, and influence the runners right into a swarm of blue jerseys intent on denying the opponent his yards.
For as talented as Taylor was, though, a logical question to consider if the Giants could indeed bring him back to the 2013 team is how would Taylor's wild lifestyle, as detailed in his autobiography, "LT: Over the Edge Tackling Quarterbacks, Drugs and a World Beyond Football," have fit in with head coach Tom Coughlin's non-nonsense coaching style.
I have a feeling that, despite their sharp philosophies regarding life, the relationship might have worked out just fine. Sure, Taylor might have drawn a few fines for some of his indiscretions. Perhaps he would have even drawn a benching or two from Coughlin, who hasn't been shy about disciplining some of the team's best players during his tenure, such as receiver Plaxico Burress and running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who have broken the team's rules.
Still, there's no mistaking the impact Taylor had on a game, and in addition to that talent, there is another intangible that I think would have made him a welcome part of Coughlin's locker room
That intangible is passion. Who could ever forget that clip of him on the sidelines encouraging his teammates to go out there and "play like a bunch of crazed dogs"? Taylor's outward desire to beat--no dominate--his opponents is a characteristic that has been shown by only a handful of defensive players such as Pierce, Rolle, and defensive end Michael Strahan.
The passion and enthusiasm by guys like these who wear their emotions on their sleeves in contagious in a locker room. Who could ever forget Strahan passionately urging his teammates, who were losing to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, not to give up hope of a come-from-behind win, to "believe it and it will happen"?
Who remembers Rolle challenge to his teammates after an ugly 23-10 loss against the Washington Redskins, a loss that put the Giants' backs against the wall in their quest for a playoff berth? After that game, Rolle said, "What I'm saying is this - and quote me on this - if you're going to play Sunday . . . granted, some injuries you can't practice through, I understand that. But little nicks and bruises? If you can push through it, push through it because your team needs you."
This is the kind of leadership that a young Taylor in his prime would add to the Giants locker room, a characteristic that's often so overlooked yet so important.
Regardless of what you think of Lawrence Taylor, there has never been another player quite like him. And there just might never be one like him again.
SOURCES: The Elias Sports Bureau
Patricia Traina is a New Jersey-based sportswriter who has covered the New York Giants full time for 16 seasons for Inside Football. She is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow her on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.
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