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Giant Hole In New York Must Be Fixed

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 07: Chase Blackburn #93 of the New York Giants is congratulated by teammates Jacquian Williams #57 after Blackburn intercepted a pass by Brandon Weeden of the Cleveland Browns in the endzone on October 7, 2012 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 07: Chase Blackburn #93 of the New York Giants is congratulated by teammates Jacquian Williams #57 after Blackburn intercepted a pass by Brandon Weeden of the Cleveland Browns in the endzone on October 7, 2012 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey

Anyone who watched even a quarter of New York Giants football last season knows with a degree of certainty that the Giants need to upgrade the linebacker position before the start of the 2013 season. In fact, you may be able to make the case that the Giants have been weak at that position for more than a few years now, even though the team has failed to address this need.

Last season's free-agent signing of Keith Rivers from Cincinnati and the return of fan-favorite Chase Blackburn was supposed to infuse some energy into the position. But Rivers ended up missing five games due to injury, continuing his streak of not playing a full season since he's been in the league. As for Blackburn, he is a free agent and will likely be heading somewhere else this offseason. Although the team has brought back Rivers and has signed Dan Connor from the division rival Cowboys, there is still a lot of work to be done to shore up the linebacker position.

What exactly is the issue with the Giants linebackers? Well, gone are the days when the Giants regularly had a full arsenal of dominant, play-making linebackers. Names like Lawrence Taylor, Jessie Armstead, Michael Barrow and Antonio Pierce are now only heard when reminiscing about more prosperous times for Giants linebackers.

Now, the team is relying on youth at the position to carry the defense into the future, but so far, that youth has struggled to reach their potential. Young guys like Mark Herzlich and Jacquian Williams have made their share of plays at linebacker since coming into the league, but haven't exactly had a big enough impact on defense to be considered anchors for the future—at least not yet. With Mathias Kiwanuka, one of the only mainstays at the linebacker position over the last few years, likely heading back to the defensive line this season, the Giants need some athletic, run-stopping linebackers to lend some support in stopping the run.

The problem with the Giants' run defense over the last few seasons has been their inability to stop the run at the second level. Whereas in years past a three- or four-yard run would be swallowed up by the linebackers coming in to fill the gaps, opposing teams are now able to get past that second level and turn that three-yard run into an eight- or nine-yard gain. This is primarily the reason for the Giants middling run defense over the last few seasons when they ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed.

That's exactly why stocking up on some athletic, run-stopping linebackers who can fill those gaps and strengthen the front seven should be one of the Giants' top priorities going into this season. While Rivers and Connor will likely be the extent of the Giants' linebacker signings during free agency, there's always still the upcoming draft for the team to pick up a few extra pieces at the position.