Jon Beason turned around the New York Giants' defense last season. Jameel McClain was signed as a free agent in March.
Not much room on the roster at middle linebacker for a fifth-round pick out of Southern California. So Derrick Kennard is making room.
Kennard impressed the coaching staff during offseason workouts and minicamp. He is doing the same early in training camp, with Beason recovering from a broken bone in his right foot, and McClain slowed by a left foot issue.
"I liked him on film; obviously our college scouting liked him on film," linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said Wednesday. "He played at USC and he played under four different coordinators, and played four different positions, so I think he kind of got lost in the college shuffle a little bit there.
"Again, we've got to go out and see him in live games, but based on what you see of him on film, he's not going to shy away from the game. He's calm, cool, and collected. It's the speed of the game, and we'll see how he plays. Based on what we do out here, I don't think he's going to have a problem."
About an hour later, as Herrmann was running the linebackers through positioning drills, he bombarded Kennard with questions. The rookie shot back the answers, and the group moved on to other tasks.
Picking up a pro defense, particularly for a linebacker who only sometimes has played in the middle, is a major challenge. Kennard has been practicing at strong side LB as well as in the middle.
And he knows just making the team is a huge hurdle to clear, particularly as the 174th overall choice.
Kennard has been anything but intimidated.
"The impression I want to make is that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win and get back to the championship level that the Giants organization wants to be at," Kennard said. "I'm continuing to try to show that every day with the way that I work, with my selflessness for the team, and the effort I give in trying to be the best."
Kennard believes his best trait is versatility. Yet if Beason isn't ready for the opener in Detroit on Sept. 8, and McClain can't stay healthy — or can't beat out the rookie — Kennard could find himself with one position: middle linebacker.
"I want to continue to show that I can pick it up," he said, "because the first thing is I have to be able to make the right call, close in correctly and make the calls and all of the adjustments. And then with my playmaking and what I can do to help the team. I don't think I've done anything yet. This is just Day 2 of camp. I did OK during OTAs and minicamp, but I'm continually trying to show them what I can do."
Kennard looks like he can do many things, from rushing the quarterback to covering in the passing game to stuffing the run. He'll get a long look in the preseason games, which begin on Aug. 3 with the Hall of Fame game against Buffalo.
Herrmann is eager to see how Kennard handles those tests.
"That's why you play preseason games," Herrmann said. "We'll find out a lot about him, but he played at USC, which is pretty good football, so he'll probably have a pretty good idea."
The Giants have no idea when Beason will be ready. They acquired him from Carolina last October, and the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker had 98 tackles after joining the team in the sixth game — New York's sixth straight loss. The defense finished eighth in the NFL overall after being near the bottom, and the Giants won seven of their last 10 games.
Herrmann likes the look of his linebacking corps, especially when Beason comes back.
"I think as a whole, the group is very flexible," he said. "We all understand that we have to be able to play multiple positions. There's only 46 uniforms given out on Sunday."
The way it looks so far, Kennard will be in one of them
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