While New York ultimately was hoping to pick up a left tackle that would allow them to move Luke Petitgout back to the right side, the signing of McKenzie improves the line dramatically. McKenzie instantly becomes the NFL's top-paid right tackle.
An early guess at New York's offensive line next season shows Petitgout at LT, David Diehl, who started all last season at RT, back at his more natural position of LG, Shaun O'Hara at C, Chris Snee at RG and McKenzie at RT. Barry Stokes, if healthy, could figure into the mix and Jason Whittle and Wayne Lucier are both expected to provide solid depth inside.
"Kareem is a powerful and durable player and will improve an important position for us,” general manager Ernie Accorsi said. “And, he adds to an offensive line that is young and signed.”
“Kareem McKenzie is a young, powerful and consistent offensive tackle,” head coach Tom Coughlin added. “He has put together a string of years where his production has been very high. He has shown outstanding durability. He’s a big, strong man who has been an integral part of their run game.”
McKenzie, a 6-6, 327-pounder, is a New Jersey native and former star at Penn State who joined the Jets as a third-round draft choice in 2001. He is thrilled about joining the Giants.
“There’s a sense of happiness,” McKenzie said. “I’m coming back over to Jersey and I finally have a home stadium where you actually are home and it doesn’t take as long a time as it would being a Jet to get back to where you live. It’s closer to my family. I think it’s a great area and the organization has a great history. I can’t think of anywhere better to be right now.”
As a rookie, McKenzie played in eight games as an extra tight end in short-yardage situations. In 2002, McKenzie joined the starting lineup and remained a fixture at right tackle for three seasons, starting every regular season game, plus four postseason contests. With McKenzie providing key blocks, Jets running back Curtis Martin rushed for 4,099 yards the last three seasons, including an NFL-best 1,697 yards in 2004.
In addition to being an outstanding blocker, McKenzie has a well-earned reputation for being a disciplined player. He was not called for a single penalty in 2002, only one in 2004 (a false start infraction in the season’s final game) and just two in 2003.
“He does not shoot himself or his team in the foot,” Coughlin said.
Asked what he attributes his small number of penalties to, McKenzie laughed and said, “Finding yourself in the right place and not getting caught.” He then added, “It takes a lot of hard work to work on your techniques and make sure you do your specific technique the right way.”
McKenzie was a three-year starter at Penn State, where he was only the fifth Nittany Lion to be named All-Big Ten three times. As a senior in 2000, McKenzie started 11 games at left tackle and was selected to the all-conference second team after being credited with 54 knockdown blocks. He was first-team All-Big Ten as a junior in 1999, his first season as a guard. McKenzie was a second-team all-conference performer playing left guard as a sophomore in 1998.
McKenzie played only two years of football at Willingboro High School, but was still named an All-America by USA Today. He was All-State and All-Burlington County. McKenzie competed in the discus and shot put on the track team, serving as captain for two seasons.
Off the field, McKenzie has been involved in many civic and charitable endeavors. He also worked as an intern in the NFL’s officiating department, which was set up by the Jets’ player development department through the league’s Career Internship Program in both 2003 and 2004.
* Elsewhere on the free agent front, the Giants lost productive DT Lance Legree, who signed with the Jets.
* Coughlin announced some changes on his coaching staff. Dave DeGuglielmo, who worked primarily as the offensive quality control coach last season, is now the assistant offensive line coach. David Merritt, who had been the defensive quality control coach, is now a defensive assistant. In addition, John DeFilippo is the team’s new offensive quality control coach. DeFilippo spent the last two seasons as the quarterbacks coach at Columbia University.