Kiwanuka clutch at two positions for Giants

When Mathias Kiwanuka signed a contract extension with the New
York Giants earlier this year, he understood his job was to be a
wild card in the defense.

Kiwanuka is somewhat of a rarity in the NFL. A two-position
player, the seven-year veteran is listed on the roster as a
linebacker, but he plays as much on the defensive line, his natural
position.

This past week in the Giants’ impressive 38-10 win over Green
Bay, Kiwanuka spent the entire game on the line because coordinator
Perry Fewell wanted a little more pressure on Packers quarterback
Aaron Rodgers.

Kiwanuka led the charge, snaring two of the five sacks for the
NFC East-leading Giants (7-4).

Where Kiwanuka plays Monday night against quarterback Robert
Griffin III and the Washington Redskins (5-6) remains to be seen.
Even the 29-year-old doesn’t know where he will be.

”I want to be able to be on the field, be prepared, and be
effective,” Kiwanuka said Wednesday in a conference call. ”That’s
my main thing. If I’m out there helping the team, then I’m good in
that spot. I said all along that defensive end, that’s my natural
position. That’s where I feel most comfortable, but when we get all
four pass-rushers out there on the field and we can go up and down
the line and mix and match, that creates favorable matchups, so I
have no problem with that either.”

The constant shifting has not been a problem for Kiwanuka, who
was drafted as a defensive lineman in 2006. He talked with general
manager Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin after signing a
three-year extension in April, so he knew what was expected.

There are weeks where Kiwanuka plays both positions. He’s a
linebacker in the normal 4-3 front and switches to the line in
passing situations. The hard part is preparing for the dual role.
It means splitting practices with the linebackers and linemen and
alternates meetings with both groups.

”When I have to go back and forth, there’s just a lot more
preparation that goes into it, but I seem to always be able to get
it done. Even though you don’t think there’s enough hours in the
day, somehow we get it done,” Kiwanuka said. ”The coaches are
pretty good about it. When you’re playing a team, and they say,
`This is how we’re going to use you, just as a defensive lineman,’
it’s a lot less preparation involved and really just going out
there and playing ball like I’ve always done.”

Kiwanuka plays both the end and tackle positions, so that means
the Redskins line will have its hands full. Washington left guard
Kory Lichtensteiger expects to go against Kiwanuka on – at least –
a couple of plays.

”It’s a pretty rare thing that you can move a linebacker to a
three-technique and have him be effective,” Lichtensteiger said.
”He’s just so big, I think his length and his agility inside
presents a little bit of a different matchup for us. But they’re so
big and long everywhere on defense, it’s hard to say he’s any more
of a problem than any of the other guys they’ve got inside.”

Right guard Chris Chester described Kiwanuka as elusive.

”It’s something you expect out of a defensive end, and as an
interior lineman you don’t necessarily see a lot of those types of
rushes,” he said. ”So it’s going to be a unique challenge.”

Kiwanuka didn’t do much in the Giants’ 27-23 win over Washington
at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 21. He had three tackles, including one
for a loss. And it’s hard to say how the Giants will approach the
Redskins this week because Griffin is so tough to defend with both
his ability to throw and run. So, who knows where Kiwanuka will
be.

If safety Kenny Phillips is healthy – he aggravated an injury to
his right knee in Sunday night’s win – New York might use three
safeties and two cornerbacks. That would allow one of the safeties
to shadow Griffin and might limit Kiwanuka’s playing time in the
base defense.

Whatever defense the Giants use, they can’t afford to play like
they did last year in their second meeting with Washington. It was
a no-show effort in a 23-10 loss that dropped New York to 7-7 with
two games left in the regular season.

Remarkably, the Giants beat the Jets and Cowboys to win the
division and then stormed through the postseason to win a second
title since 2007.

The loss to Washington was their last.

”The lesson we got out of that was, when you’re playing a
divisional opponent, it doesn’t matter what the records are, or
what you’re ranked in the conference, or anything like that,”
Kiwanuka said. ”We’re two teams that have seen each other a lot.
We know what each other is capable of, and it’s going to come down
to desire more so than the Xs and Os. When you throw that option
package in there, that may be something you have to focus on, but
whenever you’re playing somebody in your division, you have to be
prepared for anything.

”It’s always going to be a rivalry game.”

If the Giants win it, they can take a major step toward a second
straight division title.

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and
http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

AP Sports Writer Joseph G. White in Auburn, Va. contributed to
this report.