The Giants have lacked an emotional leader at linebacker for years, but much like Antonio Pierce before him, Jonathan Casillas is ready to take on that role in New York.
Since Antonio Pierce left the New York Giants in 2009, the team has really lacked an elite playmaker at the middle linebacker position.
While players like Jon Beason, Chase Blackburn, and even Devon Kennard have jockeyed to become the heir of the middle linebacker throne Pierce left vacant, no man has truly replicated his play on the field or his motivational prowess in the locker room. As a result, the play of the linebacking corps has massively struggled.
Luckily for Giants fans, it seems that Jonathan Casillas is ready to take up that mantle.
Despite a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday, the Giants have clinched the top Wild Card spot in the NFC, and have virtually nothing to play for against the Washington Redskins this Sunday.
Nonetheless, the Giants have remained very focused this week, practicing in full pads on Thursday, with all indications being that Ben McAdoo will play his starters this week, at least at the start of the game.
However fans feel about this seemingly risky move regarding starting regular players in a meaningless game, the Giants must prepare for Washington as they would any other opponent. A central component of that surrounds motivation, a difficult thing to muster when a game doesn’t affect playoff position.
Luckily for the Giants, Casillas has served as a rallying point for the team.
Prior to New York’s Thursday practice, which is typically their hardest of the week, Casillas addressed the team about the importance of Sunday’s game.
According to veteran linebacker Mark Herzlich, Casillas words were well heard. Herzlich said, via Jordan Raanan of ESPN New York, “I think what Jon was saying, it doesn’t matter, the circumstances. We go out there and do what we need to do to create momentum going into the playoffs to get a win. We set our goals singularly, and that’s one week at a time. Just getting a win one week at a time. This week is no different.”
That’s exactly the kind of leadership that the Giants need from their defensive captain. The kind of leadership fans once saw from Antonio Pierce.
However, there’s reason to believe that Casillas may be even more equipped to take on a leadership role than Pierce was in 2007. After all, Casillas already has a Super Bowl ring from his 2009 stint with the New Orleans Saints, but is definitely looking to add to his championship collection with the Giants.
I imagine that a ring as the emotional leader of a defense that carried New York to a Super Bowl is something he’d love to add to his resume.
While it’s certainly easy to disagree with McAdoo’s choice to play the starters in a Week 17 game that means absolutely nothing, Casillas is taking the exact right attitude regarding the contest against Washington. Win the next game, regardless of consequences. Build momentum going into the playoffs. Take on a team who needs a win, and crush their playoff hopes.
That’s the sign of a true leader, which is something the Giants have sorely lacked on their defense for quite a few years.
As the Giants head towards the playoffs, much will be made of the comparisons between this team and the Super Bowl winning squads of 2007 and 2011. However, the one thing that those teams had, and this team has yet to identify, is an emotional leader.
Luckily, it appears that Jonathan Casillas is that man. Casillas can serve not only as the emotional leader in the locker room, but also as the tactical leader on the gridiron. That caliber of leader is central to any championship-style defense, and Casillas certainly appears to be up to the task.