Giants have holes to fill, but will depend more on young vets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With the NFL lockout casting uncertainty over the status of veteran free agents, and the cancellation of introductory rookie workouts, the Giants will rely on younger veterans to fill holes.

General manager Jerry Reese said Thursday at his pre-draft news conference that former second-round picks Clint Sintim, Will Beatty and Linval Joseph, third-rounder Ramses Barden, and fifth-rounder Mitch Petrus will be expected to become regular contributors.

Although Reese, who has the 19th pick next Thursday, has rarely banked on any rookie to provide immediate remedies. Next weekend's go-around will produce even fewer possibilities because of shortened learning time for the draftees.

"You wish you could get guys who can play right away," said Reese. "But most of the guys you draft are developmental. Your first three picks you want to come in and contribute right away, but after that, most of them have strength issues.

"The learning curve will be really quick for them because it looks like they're going to miss some time with the (lack of) rookie minicamps. When they come in, there won't be time for them to learn."

So the weight of production will fall on the team's younger players under contract. The way things stand heading into the draft, there will be opportunities for those youngsters. Wide receiver Steve Smith (left knee), defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (neck), offensive linemen Rich Seubert (right knee), Shaun O'Hara (right foot and ankle) and Adam Koets (left knee) are rehabbing from major injuries away from the Giants' team facilities because of the lockout.

The inability to sign free agents and work them into the system also puts pressure on the second- and third-year veterans. A natural hole already exists at outside linebacker because of Keith Bulluck's retirement, and a hole could open at defensive tackle if Barry Cofield departs whenever free agency starts. And the offensive line is showing signs of age and fragility.

That's why a player such as strong side linebacker Sintim needs to step up in Reese's eyes.

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"We expect him to be an impact player," Reese said of the 2009 second-rounder. "He flashed a little as a rookie but didn't play much last year because he was injured. It's about growing up for him. He needs to grow up and play like the second-round player we think he is. Show us he can be a starter for us."

Smith, one of the league's best third-down receivers, will remain a question mark until he actually gets on the field and proves he has healed from reconstructive surgery. So Barden, a 2009 third-rounder, has a chance to step up.

"He's another guy who has a tremendous skill set, and we want him to contribute," Reese said.

The general manager also pointed out that Beatty, Petrus and Koets produced on the offensive front amid the shuffling created by injuries to center O'Hara and left tackle David Diehl in 2010.

"You spend high draft picks on guys, you expect them to play," Reese said.

That will be of utmost importance this year, as labor unrest has turned the player acquisition part of the offseason on its head.

One thing remains constant for Reese and his scouts, however: They will approach the draft in the same manner as always.

"We'll do as we always do, pick the best players on the board," Reese said. "When free agency comes around, we'll see what's available and where the money is. There'll be some quick adjustments.

"We've just got to hit the ground running."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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