Commentary

Giants have the man for the middle

The team believes it's found the player to replace Antonio Pierce's play and leadership

Updated: July 28, 2010, 9:32 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

Keith Bulluck may have been listed as an outside linebacker his entire career, but the New York Giants' newest linebacker says switching to the middle linebacker spot will not be difficult at all.

In fact, Bulluck makes his transition to the middle sound natural. He said he played in the middle on third downs in some passing packages when he was with the Tennessee Titans, and played behind the line as an outside linebacker. He played some middle linebacker at Syracuse, as well, and has been the defensive signal-caller for most of his career.

"The last three years I have been playing both inside and outside," Bulluck said in a conference call with reporters. "I played right 'backer at Tennessee and I was always behind the ball, I was never up, stacked on the defensive end. I was always behind the ball.

"So the only difference to me that I see is more opportunity to make plays," he continued, "because if you just play on one side, and you are the dominant defensive player on your team, they usually try and do things to scheme you out or cut you off and run away. In the middle you can run at me but you can't run away from me. I take on guards, I take on centers."

Bulluck said he doesn't expect to be given the starting job and expects a hard-fought training camp. He knows there will be stiff competition at middle linebacker, but the Giants likely would not have signed a 33-year-old linebacker seven months removed from ACL surgery unless they wanted him to be the man to replace Antonio Pierce.

After going through the entire offseason prepping Jonathan Goff, rookie Phillip Dillard and Gerris Wilkinson at middle linebacker, the team worked Bulluck out last Monday and offered him a contract after seeing how his surgically repaired knee held up the day after the vigorous workout. Bulluck signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal on Saturday after talking to former Giant Michael Strahan about playing in New York. While Strahan closed the deal, Bulluck said he had been thinking about playing for the Giants since last season, when the Titans didn't talk to him about a new contract.

Bulluck spent 10 seasons with Tennessee and brings a lot of the intangibles the Giants have been missing since Pierce was released in the offseason.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder is a proven playmaker with six seasons of 108 tackles or more and 19 career interceptions. He started 127 straight games prior to tearing the ACL last December. He still finished with 108 tackles in 14 games last season.

Bulluck estimates that his knee is at "90 percent" and that there shouldn't be any doubt or concern over whether he can rebound from the first significant injury of his career. He said he has been told the Giants "are not going to kill me in two-a-days" as he continues to get back to full strength and back into football shape.

"I met with two clubs and seen six, seven doctors and they have pulled and twisted and done everything there is to do to find something wrong with it," said Bulluck, who had his knee examined by Giants physician Dr. Russell Warren, among others. "With the medicine and how the rehabilitation process goes these days, it is kind of almost the equivalent to a high ankle sprain. The only people that seem to be worried with my knee are the reporters."

Bulluck says he still has to learn the Giants' personnel and Perry Fewell's new defense. He plans on watching film of every Giants game from last year to learn the tendencies of his new teammates and to see the body language of the players when things went bad.

While he says he isn't the most vocal player on the field, Bulluck isn't shying away from becoming a team leader.

"I'm a natural leader," Bulluck said. "I don't need the 'C' on my chest to be a leader. I'm here to win football games.

"I know this team as a whole has something to prove. For everyone to just be talking about Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles and not to be talking about Big Blue is almost absurd."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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