How will Big Blue replace Pierce?

With Thursday’s news that the New York Giants plan to release middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, the organization sent a message.

Last season just wasn’t good enough.

Owner John Mara made it clear at the conclusion of the season that he wasn’t happy with how the team performed in 2009. Finishing 8-8 is one thing. But finishing 8-8 after starting the year 5-0 is an entirely different story.

Remember, this is a team that is just two years removed from winning the Super Bowl.

The overhaul started when Bill Sheridan was fired just one season after taking over as the team’s defensive coordinator and was replaced by former Buffalo Bills head coach Perry Fewell. And the defensive makeover continued today with the news that the team is releasing their starting middle linebacker.

Pierce, a nine-year veteran who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Washington Redskins, played in just nine games in 2009 before suffering a bulging disk in his neck which forced him to sit out the final seven games.

On the season, Pierce recorded 55 tackles (40 solo) with one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. His best season with the Giants came in 2006 when the linebacker racked up 139 tackles (109 solo), one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Now the speculation turns to how the Giants will replace Pierce.

The first thing they could do is turn to free agency, where 4-3 middle linebacker Gary Brackett (Indianapolis Colts) could become available, as well as 3-4 inside linebacker Karlos Dansby (Arizona Cardinals).

However, the chances of Brackett hitting the market appear slim, since Colts President Bill Polian recently told the middle linebacker he’ll do everything he can to re-sign him.

So if free agency isn’t the answer, it must be the draft. The Giants own the 15th overall selection and there is some serious talent at middle linebacker that will be entering this year’s draft.

Let’s turn to NFP Director of College Scouting Wes Bunting for his top-five middle linebackers, with a scouting report on No. 1 prospect Rolando McClain.

Rolando McClain: No. 25, ILB, 6-4, 256

A huge, powerful middle linebacker who does a great job sniffing out the ball inside, McClain generates impressive of power on contact. He’s a secure wrap-up tackler who consistently breaks down and knows how to keep himself clean inside. McClain showcases impressive lateral agility and initial burst for his size, and he looks natural when asked to break down in space. Considering how large he is, McClain closes quickly on the football and exhibits impressive body control and explosion.

He isn’t overly fluid in his drop and will get overextended with his footwork, but he exhibits impressive closing speed and has some range in zone coverage. He is solid when blitzing, timing up the snap count well, and has the power to fight his way through the A-gap. McClain looks like an instant impact guy at the next level and could have a Patrick Willis-type impact at the next level.

Grade: 7.5

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