3 New York GIANTS

During the title run, linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka was left watching—and burning for a chance to get back. It's here
August 31, 2008

AS THE Giantshave discovered, there are at least two ways a star player can react when he'sforced by injury to miss his team's championship run. One is to spend his timeoff the field compiling a list of grievances about everything from his role inhis unit's scheme to the fact that his team didn't pay for his plane ticket tothe Super Bowl—and to become so embittered that the club is left with littlechoice but to trade him for two draft picks just before the start of trainingcamp. Call it the Shockey way.

Then there's theKiwanuka way. Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka fractured his left fibula last Nov.18, one month before tight end Jeremy Shockey, who's now a Saint, suffered anidentical injury. Like Shockey, Kiwanuka struggled to come to terms with thefact that the Giants won Super Bowl XLII without him. "It was a veryemotional experience," Kiwanuka says. "I couldn't have been more proudof being a part of this team, but it was heartbreaking not being out there forwhat would have been the biggest game of my career."

Unlike his formerteammate, however, Kiwanuka, 25, channeled that emotion toward somethingconstructive. The Giants had converted the 6'5", 265-pound defensive endinto a strongside linebacker before the 2007 season, and both he and generalmanager Jerry Reese admit he struggled at first. "When you've played withyour hand on the ground your whole career, then you back up and stand up, it'sa tough adjustment," says Reese. "Early on you could see him way out ofposition, overrunning things." Kiwanuka—whom teammates call simply Kiwi—wasjust beginning to get the hang of his new position when his leg snapped in agame against the Lions. Rather than sulking, Kiwanuka exploited his recoverytime to master the intricacies of his new position. "I watched all the filmI could," he says. "I wasn't walking. I wasn't doing anything [else].There's no doubt I've improved."

That was readilyapparent at Giants camp in Albany, N.Y., particularly in pass coverage.Sharpened by film-room study, Kiwanuka's awareness of where he should positionhimself is now allowing him to use what coach Tom Coughlin jokingly calls his"27-foot arms" to knock down passes as far as 35 yards downfield.Coughlin singled Kiwanuka out for praise after several sessions.

The pass-rushingskills that made Kiwanuka the final pick of the 2006 first round looked asformidable as ever in camp—and his contribution on that front will be essentialnow, with the retirement of Michael Strahan and the season-ending knee injurysuffered by Osi Umenyiora on Aug. 23; those two defensive ends combined for 22sacks in 2007. On passing downs Kiwanuka will most likely join defensive endJustin Tuck on the line in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's attacking system.

As the linebrings the pressure, the secondary should be waiting to take advantage. There,Spagnuolo has a new toy to play with in rookie Kenny Phillips, the Miamiproduct who looks poised to continue the school's tradition of producinggame-changing, Pro Bowl safeties (see: Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor). TheGiants felt like Ralphie Parker on Christmas morning when Phillips fell to themat the end of the first round. He looks significantly bigger than his listed6'2" and 210 pounds, and he drew nothing but raves in camp for his play inpass coverage and run support. While he might not start Week 1, Reese says,"he should be a big-timer for us."

The Giants wonone of the most improbable championships in NFL history last season, when ahost of formerly unheralded players became big-timers. They'll need more of thesame in 2008, from the likes of Kiwanuka and Phillips. A schedule that's fairlysoft through the first two months of the season should help propel New York toa wild-card spot. And as the Giants showed last season, after that anything canhappen.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH TOM COUGHLIN (103--89 in NFL), fifthseason with Giants

OFFENSE

PlaxicoBURRESS
POS WR
REC 70
YARDS 1,025
TD 12

KareemMCKENZIE
POS RT
HT 6'6"
WT 237
G 16

Brandon JACOBS
POS RB
ATT 202
YARDS 1,009
AVG 5.0

REC 23
YARDS 174
AVG 7.6
TD 6

Chris SNEE
POS RG
HT 6'3"
WT 213
G 16

Eli MANNING
POS QB
ATT 529
COMP 297
PCT 56.1

YARDS 3,336
TD 23
INT 20
RATING 73.9

Shaun O'HARA
POS C
HT 6'3"
WT 303
G 16

MadisonHEDGECOCK
POS FB
ATT 0
YARDS 0
AVG —

REC 6
YARDS 45
AVG 7.5
TD 0

Rich SEUBERT
POS LG
HT 6'3"
WT 310
G 16

Amani TOOMER
POS WR
REC 59
YARDS 760
TD 3

David DIEHL
POS LT
HT 6'5"
WT 319
G 16

Kevin BOSS
POS TE
REC 9
YARDS 118
TD 2

Lawrence TYNES
POS K
FG 23--27
POINTS 109

DEFENSE

GerrisWILKINSON
POS WLB
TACKLES 8
SACKS 0
INT 0

Aaron ROSS
POS CB
TACKLES 42
INT 3

Justin TUCK
POS LE
TACKLES 63
SACKS 10

Kenny PHILLIPS
POS FS
TACKLES 95
SACKS 0
INT 2

Barry COFIELD
POS NT
TACKLES 34
SACKS 1

Antonio PIERCE
POS MLB
TACKLES 102
SACKS 1
INT 1

Fred ROBBINS
POS DT
TACKLES 42
SACKS 5 1/2

James BUTLER
POS SS
TACKLES 58
SACKS 0
INT 1

Dave TOLLEFSON
POS RE
TACKLES 3
SACKS 0

Sam MADISON
POS CB
TACKLES 68
INT 4

MathiasKIWANUKA
POS SLB
TACKLES 44
SACKS 4 1/2
INT 0

Jeff FEAGLES
POS P
Punts 71
AVG 40.4

NewACQUISITION

2007 RECORD 10--6NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 4/21/16 DEFENSE 8/11/7

SEPTEMBER
4 WASHINGTON (T)
14 at St. Louis
21 CINCINNATI
28 Bye

OCTOBER
5 SEATTLE
13 at Cleveland (M)
19 SAN FRANCISCO
26 at Pittsburgh

NOVEMBER
2 DALLAS
9 at Philadelphia
16 BALTIMORE
23 at Arizona
30 at Washington

DECEMBER
7 PHILADELPHIA
14 at DALLAS
21 CAROLINA
28 at Minnesota

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL Rank: 15
Opponents' 2007 winning percentage: .520
Games against playoff teams: 6

(M) Monday (T) Thursday

NOW AT SI.COM SI VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
February 2, 1987

NOBODY EVER goes 22 for 25 in a game like the SuperBowl, not in this era of sophisticated defenses, of shifting zones and blitzesand mixed coverages. But let's say there's a quarterback who deserves thismythical kind of day, who has spent eight years being hammered by adversity andinjury, who has heard the boos of the New York fans, a quarterback like PhilSimms.- Paul Zimmerman

SI.com/vault
Free access to all GIANTS stories and photographs from the SI archives, plusvideo clips.

UNIT GRADES

SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Giants' units.

QB B
Manning will build off playoffs; expect bigger and better things.

RB A
Deep and talented unit with Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.

WR B-
Led the NFL in drops in '07; need consistency around Burress.

TE C
Jeremy Shockey's exit hurts pass game; Boss must progress.

OL A
Not many household names, but deep unit can block and protect.

DL B
Foundation of Super Bowl run must plug major holes.

LB C+
Pierce is a difference-maker, team leader and coach on field.

DB C
Rookie Phillips's emergence would add speed and youth.

ST B
Postseason run proved Tynes can make tough kicks.

SPOTLIGHT

Ahmad Bradshaw
RUNNING BACK

The shifty, 5'9" 198-pounder, who came out ofnowhere to make a dynamic contribution to the 2007 title run, is an idealcomplement to power back Brandon Jacobs. "He doesn't look at the [tackler]in front of him," says G.M. Jerry Reese of Bradshaw, "but at the nextguy, because he's confident he'll make the first guy miss."

PHOTOEVAN PINKUS/WIREIMAGE.COMSTAND-UP GUY Kiwanuka has emerged from his injury with a better feel for his role. PHOTOGARY BOGDON PHOTOANDY HAYT (COVER) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)