So, the Super Bowl jinx has officially begun. What started as an innocuous preseason ‘showdown’ between the Giants and Jets turned into Big Blue losing one of the players they could least afford to lose. Early in the second quarter, Osi Umenyiora, New York’s two-time Pro Bowler, was carted from the Giants Stadium turf.
Now all Giants fans can hope for is that Big Blue’s title defense hopes weren’t carted away with him.
“It’s very hard, especially, with a guy like Osi,” Justin Tuck said. “He definitely means a lot to this team and anytime a guy like that goes down it kind of hits you right in the throat.”
The Super Bowl champs boasted only one Pro Bowler last season. You bet; it was Umenyiora. For all the talk of Michael Strahan and his retirement, Umenyiora was the Giants premier pass rusher last season – actually for the last four seasons. Umenyiora has led the Giants in sacks four years running, totaling 40.5 during that time.
Who could forget the six-sack outburst he put up last year on a Sunday night against the Eagles? Well, now everybody basically has to.
The Redskins are right around the corner and they could care less whether or not the Giants are hurting. They’re going to go right after whoever replaces Umenyiora in the starting lineup (more on that later). Heck, the Redskins are dealing with their own DE injury as Jason Taylor wasn’t expected to be ready for opening night.
Barry Cofield knows the Giants have no choice but to be ready as well.
“You never want to see that,” Cofield said. “Especially with a guy like Osi, who’s a Pro Bowler and a team leader, but it is part of the game.”
And part of the game is picking up the pieces after a terrible situation like this arises.
While the immediate thoughts of trying to lure Michael Strahan out of retirement seem enticing, it doesn’t seem likely that Strahan will be looking to lace up the cleats again so soon after finally deciding to dive head first into the whole TV deal.
The other obvious – and much more likely – option is to move Mathias Kiwanuka back up to his natural position of defensive end.
Before he knew the extent of Umenyiora’s injury, Kiwi deflected any questions about a position change.
“That’s a question for upper management,” he said. “I don’t make the decisions around here, so I can’t speak intelligently about that.”
The thought process is that it’s easier to replace a linebacker than a defensive end, both in Steve Spagnuolo’s system and in general. The fact that rookie backer Bryan Kehl has been impressive only plays further into that possibility. With Danny Clark, Gerris Wilkinson, who played lights out against the Jets, and Kehl, the Giants would be able to cover the two outside linebacker spots with a solid sub to spare.
If Kiwi stays put, veteran Renaldo Wynn is the odds on favorite to move into the lineup.
“I think guys like Dave Tollefson and Renaldo Wynn can fill in just fine,” Cofield said. “They both made a couple of big plays out there (against the Jets). Wallace Gilberry is another young guy who has been playing well.”
The outside options are basically slim and none. Names such as Bryce Fisher, Al Wallace, Darrion Scott, Rodney Bailey, Melvin Oliver and Bobby Hamilton certainly couldn’t have generated much excitement from GM Jerry Reese.
The crafty Reese could also trade for an established veteran; Denver’s Ebenezer Ekuban comes to mind. With a surplus of both receivers and running backs and final cuts fast approaching, a player swap is a viable option as well.
But while moving Kiwi still seemed like the most logical choice, the Giants had not yet tipped their hand.
Whether he moves back to defensive end or not, Kiwanuka, who missed last season’s second half with a leg injury of his own, realizes that football injuries are just par for the course.
“I mean this is the NFL, there are season-ending injuries almost every week,” he said. “We all understand that…we don’t go into it expecting it to happen, but when somebody does go down we just have to pick them up and be as positive with them as you can. At the same time, you have to move forward. We had a number of players that went down last year, including myself. I understand more than anybody that it’s just a part of the game.”