Sat, Nov 06, 2004 - Page 19 News List

NY Giants linebackers shift around

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEYAP, NEW YORKAP, TEMPE, ARIZONA

Shawn Bryson, left, of the Lions, is tackled by Kevin Lewis of the Giants at Giants Stadiumin East Rutherford, New Jersey on Oct. 24.

PHOTO: AFP

Nick Greisen has impressed the Giants in his new role as Will, the nickname the team uses for its starting weak-side linebacker. He used to play Mike -- the middle linebacker -- but he was an understudy in that role, which was no fun.

But because of injuries to Wesly Mallard and Barrett Green, Greisen played Will on Sunday in the team's victory over Minnesota. He made the most of that chance.

"He's played well," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Greisen. "He came into the game in a little different role last week. He played well in that role, so he's done a very good job and we expect that he will be able to do that." Green missed a second day of practice Thursday with injuries to his knee and ankle, leaving open the opportunity for Greisen to start again Sunday against Chicago.

Greisen, a third-year pro from Wisconsin, had hoped to become the starting middle linebacker this season, but Kevin Lewis beat him out in training camp.

Then Mallard, the backup to Green, tore his knee before the Oct. 10 game against Dallas and the Giants coaches told Greisen to learn to play the weak side -- in two days. And though linebackers speak the same language, the middle and weak side positions use different dialects.

"It's a whole different thought process," Greisen said Thursday, as the Giants continued to prepare for the game against the Bears.

The weak-side linebacker has different coverage responsibilities from the middle-side player, different gaps to fill and keys to read.

Green was superb in the victory over the Cowboys, recording four tackles, forcing a fumble and recovering another. Greisen learned more about Will during a bye week.

Then Coughlin benched Green for a game Oct. 24 against Detroit because he had been habitually late for meetings. Greisen had seven tackles in the Giants 28-13 loss.

Green, who only played on special teams against Detroit, returned as a starter for Sunday's game against the Vikings but was injured during Minnesota's first series.

Greisen replaced him again, making five solo tackles, and he had two tackles on special teams as the Giants walloped Minnesota, 34-13, to run their record to 5-2.

"I think he's stood up really, really well," Lewis, his teammate, said. "He's gone out in a position that he's not accustomed to playing, and played it very well, I think."

Middle linebackers, Lewis said, tend to react to a play without thinking too much. Outside linebackers, he said, need to be much more patient and disciplined.

"I talk to him a lot on the field," Lewis said. "It helps. When you're able to communicate, that makes us that much more successful."

Greisen always had played middle linebacker. He was so good at the position that the Giants used their fifth-round pick to take him in the 2002 NFL draft. He mostly played on special teams in his first two professional seasons. Then Michael Barrow became a free agent and signed with the Washington Redskins.

But Lewis, a fifth-year player from Duke, was more mobile and productive in training camp than Greisen. Lewis won the job and has become a mainstay on defense.

It appeared Greisen would disappear in the quicksand of the depth chart, but NFL rosters are ever-changing once a season starts and players begin colliding.

Although players never want to get an opportunity to play because of an injury, Greisen looked at Mallard's injury as a chance to show his range.

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