Rookie lineman Justin Pugh gets some pointers from veteran teammate David Diehl
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There are big lessons that every NFL rookie needs to learn in order to find his way onto the field. They have to adjust to the speed of the game, the demands of being a professional, the toll in which the sport takes on one's body.
But then there are the small lessons. The quiet, less obvious tips that are passed down from generation to generation. Justin Pugh, the Giants' first-round draft pick, was the recipient of that kind of advice this week.
Pugh got some reps with the starting offense late in practice on Tuesday for the first time since his return from a concussion. He played right tackle and squared off against Justin Tuck who, no matter what you think of his declining play in recent years, is a savvy and veteran pass rusher. On the next-to-last play of the drill, Tuck swooped around Pugh and beat him around the edge for what would have been a sack of Eli Manning.
That's when David Diehl, penciled in as the starter at right tackle and in competition with Pugh for the job, pulled him aside quickly.
"Dave Diehl gave me a little pointer before that last play and I used a little bit of that technique on the next one and it helped me out," Pugh said.
The pointer had to do with Pugh's hands, which were too predictable.
"You want to show your hands, take them away, and then hit him again," Pugh said. "You can't keep them [up]. They get used to it if you use the same set every time with your hands up. So you have to use your hands more, be more active in that way. That's what he told me."
"And the next play I was good."
Pugh stopped Tuck on the next snap, the final one of the practice. As the rest of the team broke up for post-workout stretching, Diehl and Pugh went over the lesson one more time.
Pugh will take all of those tiny morsels of knowledge that he has accumulated in the last few weeks onto the field with him Sunday when he makes his preseason debut against the Colts. He's not sure what position he will be playing -- he's been mostly at left tackle since his return earlier this week other than those few snaps with the starters on the right side -- but wherever he is he will be excited to get his first NFL experience. The Giants can't wait, either.
"I'm anxious to see him play against someone else and then evaluate how he does," Tom Coughlin said, without hints about which side Pugh will premiere. "We look forward to seeing him play, period."
Pugh said he tries to think of whoever he plays against as a "faceless opponent," so he was not intimidated by facing Tuck and other first-team defenders in practice. He said it was more daunting to think about the first-stringer behind him.
"You're in the huddle and you have Eli Manning in there calling the plays and you're protecting Number 10," he said. "That's something that raises the level of awareness."
But going against experiences pass rushers, faceless though they may be to Pugh, is helping prepare him for the day when he has to step into the starting lineup and protect No. 10 for real.
"They let you know where you are lacking in your technique," he said. "Every rep is a battle. Something new happens and it's a chess match. That's what I love about playing this game. The same thing isn't going to happen every time."
Especially if those little lessons are learned.