Giants draft Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh to bolster offensive line

Senior Bowl North Squad offensive lineman Justin Pugh

Senior Bowl North Squad offensive lineman Justin Pugh of Syracuse (67) stands on the sidelines in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of the Senior Bowl College football game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. (Jan. 26, 2013) (Credit: AP)

During the last few months, Jerry Reese watched what he called "tape after tape after tape" of Justin Pugh playing football for Syracuse and kept an eye on one particular aspect of his game. Because of Pugh's 32-inch-long arms -- a little short for an outside offensive lineman -- the Giants' general manager was looking for a reason to knock him out of the first round, for an opportunity to say his wingspan was too much of a detriment to take him early in the draft.

"I never saw that come into play," Reese said Thursday night.

So with the 19th overall pick, the Giants selected Pugh. They followed a league-wide trend in picking linemen -- he was the seventh offensive lineman taken in the draft -- but bucked one of their own. The Giants had not taken an offensive lineman in the first round since Luke Petitgout in 1999.

Clearly, though, it has become time for the Giants to start rebuilding their offensive line, particularly on the right side, where age has become an issue.

"You win with big people," Reese said. "You gotta have 'em."

Now the Giants have one, although it might not have been the one they were coveting the most. There still was hope that D.J. Fluker, the massive right tackle from Alabama, somehow would trickle down to them at 19. But Fluker went to the Chargers with the 11th overall pick.

"We were sitting there at 19 sweating it because those guys were coming off quickly," Reese said of the run on offensive linemen. "But [Pugh] came right to us."

Many analysts saw Pugh as a second-round selection, but the Giants insist that they did not reach for Pugh, the fifth offensive tackle taken. Reese said he was "right in the pack" with those guys. He also said Pugh was the top player remaining on their draft board when they made the selection.

What the Giants liked about Pugh beyond his play is his personality. Reese called him "clean" and said he is "our kind of guy." In other words, he had no off-the-field issues. He also knows how to play a room. When he was interviewed by the Giants' brass, he was asked who his favorite Syracuse alum is. He said it's Tom Coughlin.

Pugh has the versatility to play just about every position, including center, but the Giants see him competing for the starting job at right tackle. That's where David Diehl is penciled in, but Pugh could push Diehl to a backup role. Diehl took a pay cut to remain with the Giants in 2013. He could get a significant cut in his playing time as well.

Reese, however, compared Pugh to Diehl. Their versatility certainly matches. But the general manager said both are the types of players teams need.

"I think you win with solid football players," Reese said with a nod to not-quite-stars such as Diehl and Kareem McKenzie who have been tackles on recent Super Bowl champs. "You win with those guys."

Reese even brought up the name of Rosie Brown, an all-time great Giants lineman, when dissecting Pugh. He didn't compare them as players but recalled some advice that Brown gave him when he was a young scout for the organization.

"He said you'll never find the perfect player," Reese said of his advice from Brown. "[Pugh] is not perfect. But he's a really good player."

In a draft like this year's, that'll have to do.

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