Published on: 20th August, 2013
by Scott Mandel
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In the NFL, one player’s injury is another man’s opportunity. In the case of the Giants offensive line, it is opening an opportunity for their number one draft choice to step into a starting job. But, on the firepower front, the bruised heel of Victor Cruz may well become the Giants’ achilles heel early in the season.
On Saturday, Giants center David Baas sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in a preseason game against Indianapolis. That led to a three-man reshuffling of the offensive line that was used in practice today. The big news in the new lineup is that Justin Pugh, the Giants’ first-round draft choice this year, is the starting right tackle.
David Diehl moved from right tackle to left guard, the spot previously inhabited by Kevin Boothe, who slides over to center. Right guard Chris Snee and left tackle Will Beatty stay put.
That configuration will remain intact for…well, nobody knows. Baas is listed as week-to-week, though he did say today he hopes to play in the regular-season opener in Dallas on Sept. 8.
“It’s the best way for us to play right now,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “We, fortunately, have some guys that can play in a lot of different spots and David Diehl has played in a lot of spots in the course of his career and he’ll go inside there and do a fine job. We’re trying to get a group on the field now that can work together, hopefully to prepare for the regular season.”
Pugh started at left tackle in all 34 games in which he played at Syracuse. He missed 10 days of training camp, including the preseason opener, after suffering a concussion on Aug. 1. Pugh returned to play left tackle, where he made his debut vs. the Colts. Now he’s back on the right side. The Giants routinely have their linemen play different positions in practice to prepare them for situations like this.
“I’m willing to play any position, it doesn’t really matter to me where I’m at,” Pugh said. “Right tackle, left tackle, guard, I think I can play both positions.
“I just wanted to get an opportunity to play, definitely love the opportunity to go out there and compete.”
Coughlin believes Pugh, the 19th overall selection in the draft, can handle the starting assignment so early in his career.
“Obviously we have a lot of confidence in him or he wouldn’t be here, or his pick,” Coughlin said. “Certainly he’s got plenty to work on, he’s a young kid, but hopefully you put him in there now and we bring Chris Snee along, and Chris is there to help him; it’s a good move. The more they can work together, the better off we’ll be.”
Pugh, who is 6-4 and 302 pounds, was pleased with his initial NFL game experience.
“I did well,” he said. “There were some things that obviously I could have done better, some plays that you wish you could get back, but I think overall it was a good first start. You get back out here and improve and get better each day.”
That’s the attitude Diehl has had through his Giants career, now in its 11th season. Unlike Pugh, Diehl was dissatisfied with his play Sunday night, particularly the 13-yard sack of Eli Manning by Erik Walden he gave up.
“Obviously, the game wasn’t played the best that we could, not only as a group but offensively as an offensive line,” said Diehl, who has a cast on his right hand, though he said nothing is broken and he will miss no practice. “The corrections are there to be made. I’m sure I’m going to hear I got beat ‘because I’m old’ and I lost a step and all those things, but everything on film are all correctable techniques. The sack that I got beat on, I should have recognized the protection scheme and the adjustments that they made on that. I stepped too flat. So I’m going to come out here, I’m going to do 100 sets if I’ve got to get that corrected. The other thing I work on, my hand placement, and those types of things, and do whatever I need to do to make those corrections heading out of this preseason game so that we’re ready for the Jets (Saturday night). That’s what preseason is for. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a sense of urgency to get things right, but in no way, shape, or form are we panicking, thinking that the ship’s on fire and jump off board.”
Diehl is the Giants’ most versatile lineman. He has started games at every position but center. Diehl has plenty of experience at left guard, where he’s started 42 regular-season games, including 10 in 2011.
Diehl started nine games in 2012, all at right tackle. He said shuffling on the line is part of life in the NFL.
“There’s going to be ups and downs, there’s injuries, that’s the sport that we chose,” Diehl said. “But I know the group that we’ve got, I know our coaches, that we’re going to rally around, we’re going to work to improve and it starts right here on the practice field and breaking things down. We’re going to get ready here to start introducing the Jets and everything. We’re excited. Guys were here yesterday on their day off, watching the game film, watching everything, and we’re all doing the same thing because we want to come back out here and get things right.”
Boothe has also played well at different positions on the line. He has 46 career starts, including five at center in 2011 when Baas was sidelined. Last year, he started every game at left guard. So where would he prefer to play?
“It doesn’t really matter,” Boothe said. “We’ve worked a lot of different combinations, even here in training camp. I’ve played center quite a bit, so I’m up for anything.
“(Center) is a different position. It’s a lot different, especially going against teams that play a 3-4 or 4-3, snapping the ball and things like that. It’s different, it takes time to learn but I’m confident in either position.”
So are the Giants.