While injuries have left the New York Giants offensive line in a state of flux, the door has opened for first-round draft pick Justin Pugh to make an immediate impact. One day after David Baas' sprained left MCL forced the G-Men to reconfigure the line, the team announced that David Diehl will need surgery to repair an unstable right thumb and is expected to miss six weeks.
Enter Pugh, who in the revamped line took Diehl's right tackle position while Diehl moved to left guard. And even though Baas is expected to return for Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, Pugh gets his chance to prove his value over the next six weeks beyond.
"I didn't jump up and down, but I was pretty excited when I heard the news," Pugh said on his starting opportunity. "You just have to go out there and execute. I got some texts from friends and family congratulating me, as soon as I got out of meetings everyone else had already known I was in, they probably knew before I even knew. It's something that you just kind of take it and you run with it. It's a great opportunity for me to get some experience."
Diehl is a proud veteran drafted in the fifth round in 2003 who has played multiple positions en route to winning two Super Bowl rings and playing in the 2009 Pro Bowl. He had started every game of his NFL career until 2010, when he tore his hamstring and suffered a partially dislocated hip, and entered training camp with a chip on his shoulder as to send a message to the rookie Pugh that if he wanted his starting job, he'd have to take it away.
On the contrary, Diehl has served as a mentor.
"He's helped me with all of the ins and outs of what's going on," Pugh said. "Everything he gives me I just take it and try to run with it. I watch how he practices and how he handles himself on and off the field and he's a true professional.
"I just think it's his personality and the way this team is. All these guys just want to win, so whatever we're going to do to help the team win, we've got to be able to step up, play that role and execute."
Entering the draft, the Giants needed an infusion of youth to their aging offensive line, so they selected Pugh out of Syracuse with the 19th overall pick. Like Diehl, Pugh can play multiple positions and has also received his share of mentoring from another veteran, guard Chris Snee.
"Yeah, it's been great," Pugh said. "I knew coming into this situation that I had those guys ahead of me in the room and that they've been around for a while and they know what it takes to be successful at this level. Having him out there next to me and being able to go over things, double check, it can't hurt to ask somebody at the line, to be able to run things by him, so it's been great for me and I think it's going to mean a lot for me going down the road."
Pugh made his preseason debut at left tackle in Sunday's preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts. A concussion suffered earlier in camp forced him to miss a week of practice time and the first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the time missed, Pugh believed he adjusted well against live action, a benefit that came with practicing against the Giants' defensive ends.
"When I play with the twos, I go against Damontre [Moore] and Adrian Tracy, both real good pass rushers," Pugh said. "Obviously, [Mathias] Kiwanuka has those long arms and [Justin] Tuck, he's been around for a while, so he has some moves that he can give you, he knows how to play the game. So definitely all of those guys give me a good look."
Opponents will get a long look at Pugh beginning Saturday night against the New York Jets. Despite sitting on the sidelines with that concussion, Pugh played well against the Colts, and knows he's ready to step in and contribute.
"Coach Flats [offensive line coach Pat Flaherty] has definitely made sure I'm covering all the bases and going over game film," Pugh said. "This week, you've got to make sure you go over the extra things that the Jets bring to the table. It's exciting that I get to go out there, get to play and I know getting out there for the game will give me some valuable experience that will be something great, even coming back from that concussion."
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC