ALBANY, N.Y. — No more Mr. Nice Guy for Bryan Kehl.
This year the second-year linebacker wants to be known as a nasty, fierce, intimidator. Now all he has to do is stop smiling when he talks about it.
"In college I was not a physical, bash-'em, smash-'em linebacker," Kehl said. "I was speed, quickness, agility, finesse. Shake blockers rather than run through them. And it worked for me. I made a lot of plays in college doing that."
But now that he's in the NFL, he's finding that he needs more.
"I'm just trying to change my mind-set this year," he said. "This is the NFC East, man. There's a time you can skirt a block and there's a time when you need to put your helmet in his throat and go through him."
That's what Kehl is working on this summer: Having the warrior attitude. And he's getting a chance to show it a little. With free-agent acquisition Michael Boley sidelined for at least a few more weeks recovering from hip surgery — and suspended for the first game of the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy — Kehl has been working with the starting unit. He and Gerris Wilkinson have been rotating at the weakside spot, but it's Kehl who has been standing out. Not only does he have two interceptions but he's made a few plays at the line of scrimmage.
Kehl has all of the tools. He is 6-2, 237 pounds. He is the strongest linebacker on the team, bench pressing about 430 pounds. He's also one of the fastest. But in a game situation, those measurables don't always translate.
"It's not about strength," Kehl said. "Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark were probably the most physical linebackers last year and they probably bench the least. So it's not about 'What ya bench?' It's a mind-set."
Kehl said he tries to remind himself of that before every snap. And while the limited contact of many of these preseason practices has limited him from attacking as much as he'd like to, he has shown the coaching staff an increased desire.
"I think I have seen the intensity part," Tom Coughlin said. "It's not easy to judge the other stuff right now. It will soon take place."
Still, it's hard for Kehl to snarl. While he's more comfortable with the playbook this season, he hasn't lost the big eyes of a rookie. He's happy to be playing football. And if he gets to be a starter when the season starts, well, that would just make his smile that much bigger.
"I got a little taste to savor in my mouth," Kehl said of his chance to start two games last year, a string that was interrupted by a foot injury. "It makes me salivate. I'm hungry for it."
Now he's just got to get serious and take it.