Giants tackle David Diehl girds himself for challenge to his position
There have been plenty of years when David Diehl has come into a training camp as the established and unchallenged starter. There have been other years when someone else was in camp trying to take his job. But Diehl emerged from each of his first 10 preseasons having won whatever position battle in which he was embroiled.
This was supposed to be the year that his undefeated record was snapped. He took a pay cut and underwent knee surgery in the offseason, he is coming off a subpar year, and the Giants spent a first-round pick on his replacement.
That's not exactly a recipe for comfort in the NFL. Yet Diehl seems as fired up about this season as any in recent memory. He refuses to lose a position fight for the first time in his career without flashing the ingredients that made him a starter in his rookie season: tenacity, ferocity and stability.
"I have never been more ready to play football in my life," he said. "Let people say what they want to say, challenge me. I couldn't care less because I'm ready to roll . . . In order to get me off the football field, you're going to have to shoot me."
Diehl has rededicated himself in what might be his last summer with the Giants. He had the knee surgery (to correct an injury that contributed to his lackluster 2012) shortly after the season ended and then showed up at the team's facility each day. He even stayed in New Jersey to train during the "off'' part of the offseason, a time he usually spends visiting family in Croatia. And he lost about 10 pounds with a new diet that has him leaner and quicker. He's down to 305 pounds, the lightest he's been since 2004.
"All I cared about was focusing on football, working hard, doing all this and getting ready for the season," he said. "That was my only focus."
When the Giants selected offensive lineman Justin Pugh in the first round, it only forged his resolve further. Diehl began camp as the starter, and now that Pugh is sidelined with a concussion, the veteran should be able to keep that advantage moving forward.
Diehl is on a short list of longtime Giants whose tenures with the team are coming to a clear end. He, Corey Webster and Justin Tuck are in the last year of their contracts. All are coming off disappointing seasons. Two of them -- Diehl and Webster -- took significant pay cuts. All three are out to prove skeptics wrong.
"I love haters," Diehl said. "Keep bringing it. I don't care."
As the only player left on the roster who predates the arrival of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, Diehl has had a distinguished career with the team that includes two Super Bowl rings, an All-Pro selection and a Pro Bowl appearance. He's also earned the right to call himself one of the most durable players of his era.
"That's a good thing to be in our business," Coughlin said. "Be there every day, be reliable, be dependable and know what you've got. It's still a huge factor in our profession."
Diehl said he will look back on those honors someday. Now, though, he's focusing on winning one more position battle and keeping that undefeated record intact.
"How many starts and all those things, all the awards I won from the Giants, that's great that you have those things and, don't get me wrong, I'm proud of those accomplishments," he said. "But it's all for when I'm retired and I can look back and do those things. I'm not ready to hang up my cleats. I love coming here, I love playing this sport, I know what I'm capable of, I've worked extremely hard to prove it to people and I'm going to do it this year.
"I know what I'm capable of," he said, "and I know what I'm going to do."