Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka rejuvenated by return to defensive end

Mathias Kiwanuka will be out for the rest of the summer at least. Credit: Getty Images
Mathias Kiwanuka is settling back in on the defensive line this training camp.
Credit: Getty Images

Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka is the ultimate team player, but now that he’s back in his rightful spot, the veteran can admit the flip-flopping between strongside linebacker and defensive end most of his career took a toll.

The Giants’ first-round draft choice in 2006, Kiwanuka has seen his production fluctuate because he could never get comfortable in any one role. During his first seven seasons, Kiwanuka has started 61 games — 31 on the defensive line and 30 at linebacker. But with his move back to his natural position of defensive end, the former Boston College star thinks he’s primed for a big season.

“It’s great. It’s fun. It’s the position I was kind of born to play, so I’m just having fun being back out here again [and] I think it will have a huge effect,” Kiwanuka said. “Sitting in one room, you can focus on one job and one task. I feel like it puts you in a much better competitive advantage to watch film, to study, to work on your own technique.”

Prior seasons saw Kiwanuka shuttle between the defensive line and the linebacker meeting rooms, as he practiced at both positions. A durable player who has not missed a game the previous two seasons, Kiwanuka believes he can increase his stats across the board this year simply because he can finally focus on just one spot.

“It’s definitely easier, because you’re not worrying about what you’re missing in the other meeting room and what’s being said and trying to track coaches down in their off time to get all the rest of the information,” Kiwanuka said, adding he’d still play linebacker this season in a pinch. “Whatever this team asks me to do, I’m going to do it. … As long as we get some wins out of this, I’m good for it.”

The Giants hope they won’t need Kiwanuka to make the switch again any time this season, as they’re banking on their linebacker rotation of Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich, Dan Conner, Aaron Curry, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger to elevate a unit that struggled with inconsistency and injuries last season.

But if the Giants need a linebacker, head coach Tom Coughlin said he could certainly be tempted to move Kiwanuka back if necessary.

“Sure. The more you can do,” Coughlin said. “Hopefully that won’t be the case, but never say never.”

Coughlin acknowledged he’s noticed a difference in Kiwanuka’s impact during team drills in practice now that he’s at ease with being a full-time defensive end again.

“Sure, absolutely. Just the way he carries himself. He’s worked very hard and it looks like his confidence level is way up there, because he’s got his hand on the ground,” Coughlin said. “I know he’s enjoying it. It’s going to benefit all of us, him moving back to end.”

Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell were the ones responsible for Kiwanuka’s move to linebacker in the first place. But now that Osi Umenyiora is on the Falcons and Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from offseason back surgery, Kiwanuka is needed on the line.

The 2012-13 campaigned opened with Kiwanuka as the strongside linebacker, but as the season waned, he found himself playing up front more often in the latter part of the season. The flip-flopping hurt Kiwanuka’s performance as he only mustered three sacks last season — which wasn’t any better than the 3 1/2 sacks he had the previous season. His career high of eight sacks was in 2008 when he was strictly a defensive end, and Kiwanuka thinks he can attain that number again.

Big Blue notes …

» The Giants donned full pads over the weekend for the first time since last season ended. Coughlin said it was good to see the guys thumping a bit, but said there’s a ways to go.

“We had the pads on, [and did] a little 9-on-7 [inside running drill]. It went OK, but you can see we have a lot of work to do,” Coughlin said. “The majority of [Sunday] was more of a third-down type of a day. The first group had a pretty good two-minute drill. The defense really did make a couple of plays, but we’ve got a ways to go with that phase of it.”

» Rookie first-round pick Justin Pugh suffered a concussion over the early part of the weekend. The offensive lineman, who has seen time at both his natural position of right tackle and at guard during camp, will be held out a few days until he passes the concussion protocol tests. He was seen on the sidelines during the early portion of practice but did not participate in drills. Coughlin called him “day-to-day.”

» Cornerback Corey Webster has “a little strain in the groin area” and “has some down time to rest,” Coughlin said. Aaron Ross, who is serving his second tour with the Giants after playing one season with the Jaguars last season, has been playing left corner in Webster’s absence.

» Former legendary Giants head coach Bill Parcells was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, and was supported in person by a strong contingent of current Giants staff, including Coughlin, as well as former assistant coaches who are currently head coaches in the league, like the Patriots’ Bill Belichick and the Saints’ Sean Payton.

Amongst the Big Blue caravan were former Giants players and fellow Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor. George Martin, Phil Simms, Jim Burt, Don Hasselbeck, Brad Benson, Bart Oates, Karl Nelson, Maurice Carthon, Jerome Sally, Sean Landeta, Raul Allegre, Matt Bahr and Gary Reasons were also in attendance. Former assistant coaches included Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Fred Hoaglin and Pat Hodgson. Former Jets running back Curtis Martin, who Parcells presented last year at the Hall, was there, as were several of his former Patriots players. Close personal friends like former major league manager Tony LaRussa and Shug McGaughey, the Hall of Fame thoroughbred horse trainer, were also there.

Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for updates from training camp.


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