New York Giants: Justin Pugh Wins Starting RT Job in Uneventful Fashion

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New York Giants: Justin Pugh Wins Starting RT Job in Uneventful Fashion
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Pugh is now the Giants' starting RT.

It wasn't the battle we all expected it to be, but 2013 first-round selection Justin Pugh was suddenly named starting right tackle on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

The domino effect spurred by center David Baas' recent MCL sprain yanked Kevin Boothe over from left guard; David Diehl overtook Boothe's duties on the inside andpoof!Pugh became the starting right tackle.

"It's the best way for us to play right now," head coach Tom Coughlin said of the shift, per Newsday. "We're trying to get the group on the field now that can work together hopefully and prepare for the regular season."

How anticlimactic.

Since his 2009 Pro Bowl campaign, Diehl has sunk faster than a burlap sack of bricks. For years, the former fifth-round selection out of Illinois was a reliable contributor at several different positions along the offensive line. Recently, he has struggled to keep his head above water as a starter.

For a moment, when the Giants drafted Pugh, fans rejoiced over the acquisition of a mauler who could possibly keep Diehl out of the lineup. But they were quickly reminded of the scowling man in charge, who is notoriously reluctant to insert rookies into starting roles.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
RT David Diehl underwent an unexpected surgery.

Somewhere, a trimmer, 32-year-old Diehl was laughing.

"I love haters," Diehl told ESPN New York in early August. "Keep bringing it. I don't care."

Did those fans really think Diehl would roll over that easily? We're talking about the man who anchored the blind-side for both of New York's most recent championship teams, the man who accepted a 75 percent cut in salary to stay with the Giants for the 2013 season.

Think again.

With Pugh missing 10 days (Aug. 2-12) of practice with a concussion, Diehl scarfed up all the first-team reps.

It was a classic case of Diehl's law: any spot that can be claimed, No. 66 will claim it. If a vacancy at tight end were to arise, the 304-pound lineman would add the route tree to his practice repertoire.

In his delayed debut, Pugh ran with the second-team offense against the Indianapolis Colts. His performance earned praise from Coughlin, but the learning curve was expected to be steep.

It looked like Cordle, Baas' in-game replacement, would snap the ball to quarterback Eli Manning, and the rest of the line would remain intact, at least until Pugh was brought up to speed.

"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," Pugh said of his performance against the Colts, per the Associated Press. "You get back out here and improve and get better each day."

On Tuesday, however, the Giants announced their multi-step plan to counteract Baas' injury. Pugh would enroll in a crash course on becoming an NFL-caliber starting right tackle. New York's most over-hyped position battle in recent memory was officially decidedand it better hold.

On Wednesday, Aug. 21, Diehl underwent surgery to repair an “unstable” right thumb, which Coughlin originally described as a mere “nuisance,” according to the Daily News. He is expected to miss about six weeks of action.

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And so the Giants must shuffle and re-shuffle.

The Giants have a pair of fourth-round options in James Brewer (2011) and Brandon Mosley (2012) to insert at left guard, but both players are more natural fits at tackle. The more logical optionand the one they went with in practice on Wednesdayhad Boothe back at guard with Cordle, who has been with the team since 2010, in at center.

“I think they’re confident in me that I can be a center,” Cordle said after the Colts game, per the Wall Street Journal.

What looked like a solid, veteran unit just a week ago is now littered with question marks. Will this patched cast of trench-dwellers be able to keep Manning upright in 2013?

 

Kevin is a New York Giants featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a team journalist for Pro Football Spot.  You can follow him on Twitter here.

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