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KENELEY LIKES HIS SPOT AS UNHERALDED ROOKIE.

Byline: Associated Press

Matt Keneley lived and played in Darrell Russell's shadow when they were the starting defensive tackles at USC. It seems it's going to take a while for that to change in the NFL.

Every time someone talked to Keneley this weekend at the New York Giants' minicamp for rookies, the conversations eventually turned to Russell, who was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the second pick in the draft on April 19.

Keneley, taken 206 picks after Russell, smiles when the talk turns to his former teammate.

``It is tough,'' the seventh-round draft choice said Sunday after the final rookie workout. ``You do get a little of your limelight stolen, but I never looked at it sourly. I just kept doing what the coaches asked me to do and playing whatever they wanted me to play.

``Darrell would be freed up and I'd be taking double teams or whatever,'' he added. ``But I know in my heart I can play at this level and that's all that matters. The important thing is how long you play.''

Statistically, Keneley played about as well as Russell.

Keneley had 66 tackles and five sacks last season, while Russell, a junior, finished with 56 tackles and nine sacks.

If there is a difference, it's weight. Russell plays at 321 pounds, 34 pounds heavier than Keneley.

Russell's pockets are also going to be a lot heavier than Keneley's.

``Yeah, he gets a few more bucks, but what can you do?'' Keneley said. ``I play the game because I love it, not for the money.''

One thing that will work in Keneley's favor is the lack of pressure. He can come into camp and work in anonymity.

``I have talked to guys who have been drafted in low rounds and they come in and expectations are not there,'' Keneley said. ``There's a lot of upside. If Darrell makes one play in a game, it won't mean anything. It's expected. There's a lot of attention on him from the media and because of the money. If I make a play, people will say, `See the play that guy made.' I have no complaints. I like where I am sitting.''

A two-time academic All-American with a degree in public administration, Keneley should benefit playing a defensive scheme almost identical to the one used by USC. Even the terminology is the same.

Defensive line coach Denny Mercin said Keneley picked up everything well and showed good techniques this weekend. Prior to the draft, Mercin said he was impressed watching Keneley on videotape.

``The thing we saw is that you could see he was a smart player,'' Mercin said. ``He could read the blocking scheme, which is a big plus.''

Competition at defensive tackle should be good.

Keith Hamilton, who re-signed in the offseason, is expected to start at one tackle. It's uncertain whether Ray Agnew will be back. He had a big contract and the Giants might dump it in June.

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Photo: Former Trojan Matt Keneley (92) hopes to make an impact with the New York Giants.

Daily News File Photo
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 4, 1997
Words:518
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