EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Seconds after sacking a third-string New England Patriots quarterback in the final preseason game, New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka jumped to his feet, shimmied and pounded his chest three or four times with a fist.
It was a statement play just a week before the Giants were to kick off the NFL season against the Washington Redskins on Thursday night.
Kiwanuka has returned to right end from strongside linebacker in the wake of an injury to Pro Bowl Osi Umenyiora, and he believes the Super Bowl champions are not going to lose anything in the switch.
``That was big,'' Kiwanuka said of the sack. ``I wanted to get one early and I knew I had a limited amount of plays so getting one early on was a good confidence booster. It put me in a good situation to get set up for this week.''
The play late in the first quarter was textbook for an end. Kiwanuka made a power rush upfield, extended his right hand to knock the left tackle off balance and then cut inside and made a straight rush at quarterback Matt Gutierrez and took him to the ground.
``I was never not a defensive end, I just played linebacker as well,'' said Kiwanuka, who was drafted out of Boston College in first round in 2006 as a defensive end, a position he had played since he was 7-years-old. ``Now I'm getting back into this on the first and second down, and getting the calls and the reads down. To be honest I am so excited about it that I will take any challenge that comes up.''
Heading into the season, the play of Kiwanuka at right end might be one of the biggest question marks for the Giants. He started nine games as a rookie at end but he was moved to linebacker last year so the team could get their best 11 defenders on the field. A broken leg in the 10th game ended his season, and that's another question mark.
Can he stay healthy for the season in hand-to-hand play against bruising 300-pounders?
Kiwanuka admits there is a difference in the position. Linebacker requires more running. Defensive end entails more strength work against the sleds.
``Kiwi looked like he never moved to linebacker,'' said fellow defensive end Justin Tuck, who has gotten the job of replacing the retired Michael Strahan at left end. ``Obviously he has some things he needs to work on to improve his timing, but he is a pure passing rushing D-end and a lot of people don't realize how strong he is. I look for big things out of him this year.''
Tuck smirked when asked if he and Kiwanuka will be under the microscope with Strahan and Umenyiora out of the picture.
``If Michael and Osi were here we would be under the microscope,'' Tuck said. ``Everybody wants to see if we can repeat what we did last year, and everybody doubts it. Regardless of who is here and who is not here, the reason we were so successful last year was because we played as a unit.''
What Kiwanuka and Tuck have to do for the Giants to be successful without their two Pro Bowlers is to stop the run and put pressure on the passers.
The pressure does not have to translate into sacks, even though the Giants led the league with 53 last year and added five more against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
``As a pass rusher, the first thing about is keeping the quarterback in the pocket and getting him on the ground because if you put the greatest pass rush move on and he escapes, it's almost all for nothing,'' Kiwanuka said. ``We have to keep him contained and we know the guys in the back are going to do their job.''
The one thing Kiwanuka has to improve is his sack celebration. Fellow defenders gave him grief.
Horrible, Tuck said.
``He has a lot of work to do, a lot of work to do,'' defensive tackle Fred Robbins added. ``We expected more. Some guys ain't as gifted as others when it comes to celebrating.''
While the Giants will be missing key players this year, Kiwanuka said they will be able to throw more at opponents in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's second season.
``I think everybody is a lot more comfortable,'' he said. ``We have some new guys that are going to fill in but as a whole this group being in Spags' system for another year will help us out. We will be able to fly a lot faster.''
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