- Dan Graziano, ESPN New York Giants reporter
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Jon Beason knows how to deliver a message and he knows how to say the right things. The New York Giants' middle linebacker is a smart, pleasant, engaging, magnetic fellow whose teammates are inclined to follow him. For a team that lost defensive captain Justin Tuck to free agency a year ago and defensive captain Antrel Rolle to free agency a month ago, Beason is the natural candidate to fill the void, and he knows it.
"I think leadership boils down to a want-to," Beason said Monday on a conference call with reporters. "People follow the guy who's really there for a purpose and a reason, and if that reason is to be productive and win football games at all costs, then guys tend to follow you. For me and this team, after losing a great player and true competitor like Antrel Rolle, I'm challenging guys to lead by being on time, staying late and studying, trying to be blameless and do their job. That's the leader I'm looking to follow."
Sounds great, and Beason is up to the task ... as long as he can play.
And there's the problem, right? Beason played in just four games last season because of a toe injury he suffered in the spring that eventually required surgery. He's missed 40 games the past four years and hasn't played a full season since 2010 with Carolina. He managed to stay healthy in 2013, the year the Giants acquired him in an early-season trade after he'd fallen out of the Panthers' plans. And he performed well enough as a player and a team leader to convince the Giants to re-sign him before he hit the free-agent market. But fundamentally, this is a guy who's been injured. A lot. And if he can't be counted on to play every game, where does that leave the Giants for leadership voices on defense?
"I feel, when healthy, I'm the best in the game," Beason said. "And that's my motto going into the 2015 campaign. I'm going to be healthy every game instead of just talking about every game. My focus is on the opener and to have practiced all week and go out there and be prepared, as opposed to just playing through will and your mental capacity. I'm looking forward to having the mental part meet the physical preparation and being the best I can be."
Sounds fantastic, as usual with Beason. But he also admitted there's going to be an element of maintenance and restriction of activity, at least early in the offseason. And Beason's recent health struggles are a concern in the minds of the people who run the Giants. They're the main reason Jameel McClain, who played the middle linebacker role last season when Beason could not, is still on the team even though the Giants went a little nuts in the linebacker aisle when the market opened in March. McClain can be a leadership voice, but those candidates dry up pretty quickly after him. The Giants are young in key spots on defense, and while new leaders do occasionally emerge from unexpected places, there don't appear to be many willing, capable candidates on this roster with the credibility that guys like Tuck and Rolle had.
"You talk about chemistry. From top to bottom, we are different this year," Beason said. "Obviously, a new coordinator [Steve Spagnuolo] who everyone has to adapt to, you hope a light bulb goes off and we start playing in unison. We have to completely reset. Don't worry about where you played or how you played in college. Just buy into a system and say, 'Whatever my coach asks me to do, that's what I'm going to do. I think if we do that, we'll be on the same page and we'll get guys at the same time doing one thing right, as opposed to 11 guys all doing something different."
As long as he's in the building, in the meetings and on the practice field, Beason's voice as a leader will be a powerful and vital one for the Giants. But should something happen, as it often does, that takes Beason away from the field for an extended period of time, and the Giants are running out of candidates to provide that voice.
Middle linebacker Jon Beason is up to the task of being the Giants' defensive leader -- as long as he can stay healthy and play.