Jameel McClain, in his first year with the Giants, has stepped up in the absence of Jon Beason. Credit: Getty Images
The Giants’ mantra of “next man up” will be tested in the coming weeks as they try to move on without injured linebacker Jon Beason.
And while head coach Tom Coughlin has complete faith in Jameel McClain and rookie Devon Kennard, he’d certainly rather have Beason in the lineup.
“Fortunately, we will get Jon back, so we’re blessed to have that,” said McClain. “But what we have now is a chance for a lot of people to step up and step into positions that they normally wouldn’t have been in. That’s always good for a football team — diversity.”
Kennard is naturally new to the ready-or-not way of the NFL, but the fifth-round pick said that’s just the way it is in the pros.
“They gave me the opportunity and I’m taking advantage of it,” said Kennard, who also lines up outside anytime he’s simultaneously on the field with McClain. “I just go out there and do everything I can every day and try to make plays and make an impact and show that I can do things to help the team.”
Beason, who won’t need surgery, suffered a ligament tear and a small fracture to the sesamoid in his right foot during a non-contact organized team activity (OTA) last week, but if there is a silver lining, it’s that it happened so early in the offseason workouts that he may be back by the Sept. 8 opener in Detroit.
But for the time being, even if Beason is blessed with a speedy recovery, someone must play middle linebacker in training camp and the preseason games. Coughlin said he’s confident in either replacement.
“He’s been in there before,” Coughlin said of McClain, who’s mainly been a 3-4 linebacker during his previous six seasons in Baltimore. “He’s playing in there [the middle] right now and he’s played on the outside mostly, but it’s just a simple move.”
McClain had been penciled in as the starting strongside linebacker in the Giants’ 4-3 defense.
“My experience in this league has been about learning different things to try to help out the team,” McClain said. “That’s the player that I am. That’s something that I’m used to, so I don’t think it’s anything that I’ll actually lose. If anything, I’ll learn more of the defense. ... Responsibilities always change. With great opportunity comes a lot of responsibility. Getting people lined up, being ‘the man’ in the middle [and] making all the calls, and doing things that I’m normally accustomed to is just something that I will bring to it.”
While starring at the University of Southern California, Kennard played in 51 games with 32 starts — one at rush end, eight at middle linebacker, five at strongside defensive end and 18 at strongside outside linebacker. It’s that versatility that enamored him with management and the coaching staff.
“I’m spending hours and hours in the playbook every day, every night. When I go home I’m studying for hours. And when I get in here, I’m back in the book,” said Kennard. “So, when I get out there [on the practice field] and I get those live reps, it gets easier and it’s slowing down for me. I’m making more and more plays and making more of an impact and that’s all I’m trying to do — play my part and show that I can help the team.”
The Beason loss isn’t just felt in the lineup, however, as he’s a well-respected voice in the locker room and defensive huddle. Perhaps only safety Antrel Rolle is more revered on Big Blue’s defense, which makes Beason’s loss doubly costly.
McClain, who learned at the feet of future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, said he’s done his fair share of leading by example and voice once Lewis rode off into the sunset.
“That’s my game; that’s my style of play. I believe in picking others up [and] if that’s what becoming a leader is about to people, then I can do that,” said McClain. “Nothing’s gonna change on this defense or on this team, especially in this linebacker unit. Jon is still there [and] everybody still communicates. We’ll all get this defense down pat soon enough. We’re all learning something new or trying to do something different than we were accustomed to doing last year, with the exception of Jon. But other than that, everybody’s locked in and communicating. ... We’re all in this together.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter@TBone8.