The potential absence of veteran Jon Beason and rookie Devon Kennard from the New York Giants' linebacking corps Sunday represents not just an opportunity for Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich, but also uncertain prospects against a run-heavy Houston Texans squad.
Beason, a dominant force in the middle, injured his big toe after stepping on a Cardinal in the second half of last week's 25-14 Giants' loss. He will visit renowned orthopedist Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, North Carolina, Friday to get a final determination on his playing status.
With rookie Devon Kennard of the Giants already sidelined with a hamstring problem, Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich will likely split strong-side linebacker duties next to Jameel McClain, as the strong-side starter moves inside to the middle linebacker spot, usually filled by the 6-foot, 232-pound Beason.
Beason said the fact that he is walking on the foot indicates rapid healing, and added he remains optimistic about playing against a 2-0 Texans squad that averages 40 runs and just over 150-ground-yards per game.
"It's feeling better," Beason said. "In the game, I stepped on someone's foot and felt a pop. It scared me.
"But the pictures indicated it's just scar tissue." And he added, "it feels good, so that's a good indication."
Paysinger and Herzlich have prepared this week as if they will start, both reviewing films at the Quest Diagnostic Training Center Wednesday until 8 p.m.
Both players have started in the past, and both received extra work in the preseason as a foot injury kept Beason on the sideline all of training camp, but neither offers the speed and experience Beason did when he came over in an Oct. 4 trade from Carolina.
The 0-2 Giants, trying desperately to avoid a repeat of last year's 0-6 start, will miss Beason's skills as they chase Arian Foster and his 4.4-yard-per-carry average. Foster already has 241 yards on 55 carries to go along with the touchdown he scored in last week's 30-14 win over Oakland.
"To have his passion, his knowledge of the game out there, we'll miss that," Paysinger, a special teams player who made 73 tackles in 10 starts last year, said of Beason. "But Mark and Jameel are doing a great job preparing this week. Even though Beason's not here, we do have some capable guys."
The Giants do have other options, such as the three-safety alignment that worked well two years ago.
Herzlich could see action at middle linebacker if the alignment calls for McClain to shift to his natural outside position.
"It doesn't matter who's in there," Herzlich said. "It's the same communication, and we've all been in there since training camp. We've all done it before. But we want the best players out there, and Jon's a heck of a player. Physically, he can do things that we can't.
"He's faster than I am, but what we do is make up for that with different play-recognition stuff."
The linebackers will have to be especially aware of J.J. Watt, the Texans' standout defensive end. He is now making his presence felt on the other side of the ball as a tight end in the goal-line offense, a la former New England linebacker Mike Vrabel.
Watt caught a 1-yard touchdown pass against Oakland.
Whoever is playing linebacker for the Giants will have to pay particular attention to Watt, 295-pound Pro Bowler whose strength and speed offer blocking as well as pass-catching dangers.
"He's an athlete," McClain said. "They're getting their bang for their buck with J.J.
"Man, this guy's a freak. But you cover him like you cover anybody," McClain said. "He's going to be aggressive, and you see he's got soft hands because he got his touchdown. It'll be interesting."
Especially if the Giants' experienced, dominant linebacker Beason can't make it.
NOTES: P Steve Weatherford (ankle) took limited practice and did all the punting drills after sitting out Wednesday. He could not do that last week until Friday.Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said the failure to record a turnover the first two games is the most grating thing about the Giants' start. "It's frustrating because this is a turnover-conscious group," Fewell said. "It's something we did consistently in practice and the preseason, but we haven't been able to do it in two ballgames. Without those, you can't put the offense in position to score."