Last year, Justin Pugh was a first-round draft pick of the New York Giants coming out of Syracuse and just looking to win a starting job — heading into training camp looking to battle David Diehl for the right tackle job.
However, a thumb injury to Diehl sidelined him for the summer and for the first three weeks of the season, which inserted Pugh into the starting lineup in the preseason and he never looked back, as he not only kept his spot as the starting right tackle, but thrived in his position and even some people around the NFL said that Pugh played the best football out of all the offensive tackles drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft; some of which include top picks that were taken well ahead of Pugh that included Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Luke Joeckel and D.J. Fluker.
Now a year later, Pugh is looked upon as the guy who the Giants will build their offensive line around for the future for many years and will only continue to get better with each passing game. However, in the 2013 season, Pugh was one of the very few bright stars of that line; a line that struggled to protect Eli Manning and lead to 39 sacks and 27 interceptions and a line that needed drastic change, and change it did during the first couple weeks of free agency.
While the Giants let Kevin Boothe leave to sign with the Oakland Raiders and released David Baas after three seasons, Jerry Reese got to work in making drastic improvements as he signed Geoff Schwartz from the Kansas City Chiefs to a four-year deal, J.D. Walton from the Denver Broncos to a two-year deal, plus John Jerry from the Miami Dolphins and Charles Brown from the New Orleans Saints to one-year deals; plus Chris Snee took a pay cut in order to remain on the team in 2014 and end his current contract and potentially, career with one more solid season at right guard.
While attending a promotional event at the Microsoft Store on Saturday at the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, NJ, Pugh sat down with Giants 101 and talked about the changes to the offensive line and how even though they lost some key guys, should be a much more improved unit next season.
"It was tough to see veterans like Kevin (Boothe) and David (Baas) go because they were such important parts to the line, but getting a guy like Schwartz was so important. I saw him first-hand last year while playing in Kansas City and he's a big man that can make a very big impact. Same with guys like Walton, John Jerry and Charles Brown. They can all come in and start immediately, especially if Will (Beatty) has any issues from the broken leg he suffered at the end of the year. But I'm really excited to see this line in action when we hit the field and get to work."
Pugh mentioned that he recently had been working out with Snee and said that he looks like a guy who is focused on football and wants to prove all of the naysayers wrong that he's finished in the league.
"Chris looked tremendous in all of the workouts I was with him for. He has a certain determination and demeanor about him and I can't wait to be working alongside him and learning from him every week. He's such a big part of our line and we really need him; his experience and leadership is so important."
Snee suffered a second hip injury in the Giants 38-0 Week 3 loss to the Carolina Panthers; an injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve and unfortunately, started a domino effect of injuries to the offensive line in the season; along with Snee, Baas landed on IR, as did Jim Cordle and Beatty broke his leg in the team's 20-6 Week 17 win against the Washington Redskins. So a lot of shuffling of players on the line happened during the season, but Pugh remained at the right tackle position for the entire year and also mentioned that he expects to be at right tackle again for 2014, although he did admit that the team may work him in some reps at left tackle just as a precaution from Beatty's leg injury.
One thing that Pugh mentioned was the swapping of number between him and another roster holdover from last year in Brandon Mosley. Mosley previously wore 67, which was Pugh's number at Syracuse and also during high school as well. Last week, Pugh was able to get 67 from Mosley and will wear that number in 2014 while Mosley switched to 75, which was his number when he attended Auburn. Pugh said the number switch was something that had in the works for a while.
"Brandon and I actually talked about doing this last year, but because of NFL rules with the jersey numbers and selling all of the made merchandise and jerseys, we couldn't do it. But after the season, I was able to get 67 from him and he wanted to go to 75 and it worked out well for both of us."
Pugh mentioned that a steak dinner sealed the deal for him and Mosley to make the number switch happen. One number switch that people have wondered will happen or not is between the returning Mario Manningham and Rueben Randle, who has Manningham's number 82, which has been his number since his rookie year in 2008. However, Manningham may simply stick to the 86 that was issued to him, as it was his number when he attended the University of Michigan.
photo credit: Sean Thornton
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