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Giants Hope Depth Keeps Defense Fresh

JOE LAPOINTE The New York Times 03.08.2009 19:47
Justin Tuck, far left, sat out with a sore left foot. He and Mathias Kiwanuka (94) face competition on a restocked defensive line.

Justin Tuck, far left, sat out with a sore left foot. He and Mathias Kiwanuka (94) face competition on a restocked defensive line.

Justin Tuck, a Pro Bowl defensive end, missed the first practice of training camp Monday morning with a sore left foot, but Giants fans should not be concerned.

“It’s nothing, that’s where I had surgery two years ago,” Tuck said. “It’s sore for life.”

Coach Tom Coughlin said Tuck’s absence was precautionary. He used Tuck in the afternoon practice, but rested Osi Umenyiora, the other starting defensive end, who is returning from a year’s absence because of knee surgery.

“I wanted to go; I was raring to go,” said Umenyiora, who worked only individual drills in the afternoon. “But they’re trying to hold me back a little. It’s precautionary.”

Tuck and Umenyiora are the bookends of a defensive line that helped the Giants to a Super Bowl championship two seasons ago but faded noticeably late last season. The Giants lost four of their last five games, including a playoff loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, after an 11-1 start.

The Giants had 30 quarterback sacks in the first eight games of the regular season but only 12 in the last eight. Part of the reason was the absence of Umenyiora and a variety of injuries that wore down Tuck. Injuries to tackles Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield also were a factor. By signing the free agents Chris Canty from Dallas and Rocky Bernard from Seattle in the off-season, the Giants hoped to add depth to the line, although Bernard is out with shoulder and hamstring injuries.

Bill Sheridan replaced Steve Spagnuolo as the defensive coordinator, and the defense may feature more straight-ahead rushing and fewer complex coverages during zone blitzes.

For Tuck, that may mean not having to drop back into passing lanes to guard against tosses to running backs while other players rush the quarterback.

Last season, Tuck led the team in sacks with 12. Mathias Kiwanuka was second with eight. Robbins was third with five and a half.

Whatever the overall scheme, Tuck said Umenyiora would help on the field by drawing double-team coverage and off the field by lightening the mood.

“He kind of knows how to separate football from daily life,” Tuck said. Referring to Umenyiora, Sheridan said, “The expectations are very high.”

But Umenyiora’s return has meant a demotion for Kiwanuka, who will be the backup right end, technically.

“It’s tough, I’m not going to lie about it,” Kiwanuka said. “It’s not a position I want to be in. But you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches.”


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