For the better part of three seasons, the Giants' offensive line was the consistent heartbeat of the offense, paving the way for a punishing ground game and keeping quarterback Eli Manning upright. But at the end of a season in which injuries forced members of the line to play musical chairs at a variety of positions, they limp into the offseason facing serious physical questions.
No one is worse off than Rich Seubert (pictured leaving field in Washington), who suffered a dislocated right kneecap in the final game at Washington. It was the same leg he broke in the past. General manager Jerry Reese described Seubert as the team MVP for the job he did this season moving from left guard to center to hold the line together when Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara was out for long stretches.
Coach Tom Coughlin said Seubert is scheduled for surgery on Tuesday, and must have his patella tendon repaired in addition to the kneecap. It could be a long road back for Seubert, but Coughlin said, "The doctors think that, knowing this young guy and what he has been through, he’ll make the recovery."
Given the close-knit nature of the Giants' offensive line, Seubert has a built-in support group. "We'll be there every step of the way pulling him out of the ditch," O'Hara said. "If anybody knows how to come back from something, it's Rich. We'll all enjoy seeing him back on the field next year."
O'Hara still is dealing with his own physical problems that causes him to miss 10 games this season, including the finale. He was scheduled to meet with doctors Monday afternoon to consider how to treat his Achilles and ankle problem, and surgery is a definite possibility.
"Most likely, there will be something to clean it out and get it right," O'Hara said. "Once I do that, I'll be ready for next year. I feel like I'm in my prime. I've been playing well the last few years, and I have another year on my contract here. I was hoping to play a lot this year and maybe get an extension for a couple of years. I want to play into my mid-30s as long as I feel good. I have no doubt in my mind that, once I get my Achilles fixed and my ankle, that I'll be back."
As for the Lisfranc problem on the bottom of his foot that complicated matters, O'Hara said rest is the cure and it shouldn't be a recurring issue next season.
Backup tackle Shawn Andrews played well when he was healthy, but his chronic back problem acted up the second half of the season. Given the structure of his contract and a bonus payment that would be due before next season, he might not be back.
"That's something they're definitely going to discuss. 'Can we count on this guy for a whole year?'" Andrews said of management. "I understand the business side. If they decided to go in another direction, this has been four of the best months of my life. I live in the moment and learn from the good and the bad, but it's been all good here."
Coughlin expressed his confidence in the veterans to be able to come back from rehab, but he also praised the work of backup Will Beatty and said Mitch Petrus has a lot of promise for the future. Kevin Boothe also played well when called upon. Still, it might take a lot to force a change in the starting group of tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie, guards Seubert and Chris Snee and O'Hara at center.
"We feel really good about this group," O'Hara said. "We're going to work hard. We're all hungry and motivated. We know how to play. It's a tough game. There's always changes, but I think everyone on our line unit feels we'll be back."