Competition for Giants' Starting Right Tackle Job Pits Youth Against Experience

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Competition for Giants' Starting Right Tackle Job Pits Youth Against Experience
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
Is Justin Pugh the favorite to start at RT in Week 1?

In the New York Giants' marquee position battle of the summer, rookie offensive lineman Justin Pugh will take on seasoned veteran David Diehl for the starting right tackle job.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning can expect the protection on his blind side to be sufficient, as left tackle Will Beatty avoided free agency this spring by agreeing to a five-year, $38.75 million deal in late February.  And Manning should know what to expect from his interior line; guards Kevin Boothe and Chris Snee, as well as center David Baas, are expected to retain their spots in the starting lineup.

The only question mark along the offensive front is at right tackle, where Diehl started 10 games during the 2012 season.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride believes that adding a much-needed dose of youth will drastically improve that position.

As Gilbride told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York earlier this month,

We added some young blood that can come in and look like they have the skill set to be able to play and contribute down the road.  There is no question, we need an infusion of talent at that spotyoung talent that would be able to come in and eventually assume starting roles.  How soon that will be remains to be seen.

That "young blood" Gilbride refers to is Pugh, the Giants' first-round selection (19th overall) in the 2013 NFL draft.

In a draft class rich with O-line talent, Pugh landed with the Giants in the middle of the first round.  He was a two-time first-team All-Big East selection (2011 and 2012) at Syracuse while anchoring an offensive line that paved the way for a different 1,000-yard rusher in each of Pugh's seasons as a starter.

As Giants general manager Jerry Reese saw it, selecting Pugh with the 19th pick in the draft was a no-brainer.

"[Pugh] was the highest guy on our board," Reese said a day after selecting him (via Adam Schefter of ESPN).  "You guys think I'm joking when I say that, but it's absolutely true."

Reese wasn't lying; Pugh possesses everything the Giants look for in an offensive lineman.  He is an intelligent athlete, a strong zone-blocker and a clean-nosed, versatile player.  Although Pugh worked out exclusively at right tackle in the spring, his short arms lead many to believe that his long-term position could be at guardor even center.

Pugh's biggest asset, arguably, is his mauling attitude.  He can be the meanest player on the field, and quarterback Ryan Nassib, a college teammate and fellow Giants rookie, can attest to that.

"Oh yeah, absolutely," Nassib told Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News in May.  "He's one tough dude.  I've seen him many a time make his opponent quit.  It's almost humorous when guys stop rushing him at the end of games."

For Pugh, who told Vacchiano it's his "whole objective" to make his opponent quit, 32-year-old David Diehl will be his first challenger.  The newly named Quest Diagnostics Training Cener (formerly the Timex Performance Center) will be the site of this showdown, where Pugh will put that nasty inclination to the test.

But don't expect Diehl to roll over and accept defeat that easily

Countless times he has seemed out of a starting job only to worm his way into one when everyone least expected it.  Whether lined up at either guard or tackle position, Diehl has been a mainstay in the trenches.  Since his rookie season, Diehl has started 150 of a possible 160 games, and he didn't miss a single game until his eighth year in the league.

This is the same player that anchored the left tackle position in both of the Giants' most recent Super Bowl victories (2007 and 2011), the same one who, drafted by New York in 2003 (fifth round; 160th overall), predates every single player on the roster, as well as head coach Tom Coughlin.

And some rookie with a propensity to be unpleasant is supposed to uproot him of his spot?

No, not David Diehl.  Not without a fight.

Who will be the Giants' starting right tackle in Week 1?

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The old veteran knows what to expect from the NFL, training camp and the Giants organization.  More importantly, the Giants know what to expect from the old vet.  Forged by 10 seasons of service, the loyalty Diehl displayed when accepting a hefty pay cut this offseason was an anomaly among the league's ever-growing "look-at-me" culture.

Diehl told the Associated Press in May,

It's my 11th year in the league.  I knew I could have other teams that would have offered me contracts, but this team means more to me than anything financially.  I couldn't see myself in another uniform.  I love this place.  To me, playing football is not financial.  It's about loyalty.

The 22-year-old Justin Pugh may be an imposing threat, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Diehl will give all he has left in the tank to secure a starting job for a final go-round with the only NFL team he has ever known.

 

Kevin Boilard is a New York Giants Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a Giants Team Journalist for Pro Football Spot.  You can follow him on Twitter here.

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