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Giants' line shuffle leaves Justin Pugh at left guard

Justin Pugh of the Giants speaks to the

Justin Pugh of the Giants speaks to the media before practice during training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center on July 22, 2013 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Mike Stobe

Ben McAdoo was asked about Justin Pugh's position at the Giants' rookie minicamp on May 9.

"Right now,'' the offensive coordinator said, "Justin Pugh is our starting left tackle.''

Right now just didn't last that long. Because only days later, when the veterans came together with the rookies for the first time during the offseason program, Pugh was told he'd be needing new business cards. He was no longer a right tackle. He would be a guard.

After two years of starting at the outside position, Pugh is moving inside. He dabbled at guard in practices at Syracuse and at the Senior Bowl, but it's a position he hasn't played since high school, and one he called "totally different'' from his previous spot. And as he spoke about the virtues of his new place in the lineup, it was hard to tell who he was trying to convince -- himself of the reporters asking about the switch.

"I love it,'' he said several times about playing guard after Wednesday's first OTA of the offseason program. "I'm embracing it.''

Pugh wasn't always happy to shift. At the end of the 2014 season, during which he struggled at times and did not make the anticipated jump from a solid rookie season, Pugh was adamant about remaining at right tackle and bristled at the suggestion his future might be at guard.

"I have no intentions [of moving],'' he said in December. "I really don't like those questions because I came here to play tackle. If they ask me to move they ask me to move . . . I think I've done a pretty good job at right tackle so I plan on staying there.''

When the Giants drafted Ereck Flowers in the first round of the draft last month, though, it became clear that Pugh might be on the move. The original plan was for him to move to guard and for Flowers to play right tackle. When Will Beatty tore his pectoral while weight training last week, though, Pugh thought he might be considered to help fill in at left tackle. It's the position he played in college. Instead, the Giants moved Flowers to left tackle, inserted Marshall Newhouse at right tackle, and kept Pugh at left guard.

"I think it's an attempt to take advantage of a very versatile, gifted athlete,'' Tom Coughlin said of the Pugh move. "I guess 'experiment' would be a word you could say because he hasn't played there. We moved him there with the full intent that he would be able to play there. Do we have to take another look? Perhaps.''

Assuming the Giants' offensive line configuration remains unchanged from the first OTA on Wednesday to the start of the season -- and that's a huge assumption -- Pugh will be playing next to Flowers. It was just two years ago that Pugh was thrown into a starting job as a rookie and had to rely on veteran Chris Snee to help him along. Now Pugh is the veteran doing it for Flowers, all the while learning his own new position.

"We're learning this together," Pugh said. "I think we'll be great.''

And that, really, is the only thing Pugh cares about. Being great. He said he doesn't see much difference in status between guards and right tackles (he even noted that guards are often paid more). He said he's looking forward to taking "free shots'' on linebackers and pulling. He said, too, that he's looking forward to helping the tackles in pass protection.

"I know what it's like to be out there on an island,'' he said. "My left tackle is going to love playing next to me.''

That's a big change, not only in position, but in attitude from the December interview in which he was offended at the idea of playing guard.

"I think no matter where I was going to be at I was going to play well this year,'' he said. "I'm playing left guard and I'm going to play well this year. That is my goal."

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