Giants move 2006 pick Kiwanuka to linebacker

Updated: April 30, 2007, 2:00 AM ET
Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mathias Kiwanuka is changing positions and moving into the New York Giants' starting lineup at linebacker.

Coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese confirmed Sunday that the Giants No. 1 draft pick in 2006 would move from defensive end to strongside linebacker next season.

Defensive End
New York Giants

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Solo Ast FF Sack Int
53 44 9 2 4 2

Reese said the move had been planned for months and it had nothing to do with the draft, which the Giants wrapped up Sunday with four more picks.

"There is no question that he can make the transition to outside linebacker, that he can play SAM linebacker," Reese said, noting that the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Kiwanuka is athletic and dropped into some zone pass coverages last season while playing end.

Reese also said that Kiwanuka can be an every down player.

The linebacker spot has been a concern since Reese waived veterans Carlos Emmons and LaVar Arrington in a salary cap move earlier this year.

New York signed former Kansas City Chief Kawika Mitchell in the offseason. It was thought that he would be the strongside linebacker and Antonio Pierce would be the middle linebacker. The weakside position seemed up for grabs with Gerris Wilkinson, Chase Blackburn and Reggie Torbor in the mix.

Reese repeatedly said the Giants had enough linebackers, but he never told anyone Kiwanuka might move.

Kiwanuka was asked about such a move during the offseason workouts, but he indicated no one had talked to him about it. He started nine regular season games at defensive end and one in the playoffs, finishing with 55 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

"We have him penciled in as our SAM linebacker, so linebacker wasn't a pressing need for us," Reese said about an hour after the draft finished. "You probably thought it was, but it wasn't for us."

Moving Kiwanuka is an attempt to get another good player on the field. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora both went to the Pro Bowl in 2005, but missed considerable action last season with injuries.

Kiwanuka played well replacing them, although he is best remembered to letting go of Tennessee quarterback Vince Young on a fourth-down, fourth-quarter play because he was afraid of being called for a roughing penalty. The mistake was magnified when the Titans rallied to win.

"We want our best players on the field, so we penciled the guy in a long time ago," Reese said.

Coughlin said the experiment with Kiwanuka will pick up steam this spring.

Reese said Mitchell and Wilkinson are on the depth chart on at weakside linebacker, and not necessarily in that order.

The Giants addressed the linebacker position Sunday in the draft, taking Zak DeOssie of Brown on the fourth round. He is the son of former Giant Steve DeOssie, who played linebacker here from 1989-93 and was a member of the 1990 Super Bowl champions.

Reese expects the younger DeOssie to be a backup and special teams player. He can also long snap.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press