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Justin Pugh on last year's Philly struggles: 'I'm a different player' now

New York Giants tackle Justin Pugh looks on

New York Giants tackle Justin Pugh looks on with the offensive line during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J. on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Credit: Brad Penner

Justin Pugh has no interest in reminiscing about last year's trip to Philadelphia.

That's the one in which he played right tackle, allowed four sacks, admitted afterward to it being the worst game he had ever played at any level, and even apologized to fans on social media for his performance.

"There's no point in beating a dead horse about last year," the third-year offensive lineman told Newsday this past week. "We've played them since then. I've moved on. I'm not worried about last year. I'm not even playing the same position. We're a totally different team this year."

And then he delivered the caboose on his train of thought, which may have been the most important acknowledgment.

"I'm a different player," he said.

He certainly is.

Pugh may have left Philadelphia last October a mess, dirtied and embarrassed, but he has since regrouped and become one of the Giants' most valuable offensive linemen. He's emerged as a young leader on a unit that seems to be ascending from disappointing depths the last several years, took a change in position in stride when the team moved him to the less glamorous guard spot after drafting Ereck Flowers, and has been a very consistent presence for the offense.

"I think he's a much better player," Tom Coughlin said, comparing Pugh from a year ago. "He's well-rounded now. He's had an outstanding offseason, he's studied. He's been able, obviously, to play more than one position for us, which is very, very good. And he's played well.''

"Last year at this time, he had some rough moments," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. "I think he learned a lot from those moments, grown up quite a bit in this last year. He's still a developing young player."

What made Pugh's Philly performance even harder for him to digest was that it happened in front of his own people. Pugh grew up in Holland, Pennsylvania, deep in Eagles territory. His closest childhood friends are Eagles fans to this day.

Pugh has said the problem he faced a year ago was that plays snowballed on him. He was thinking about the one he messed up, and that led to him missing another block. Then it compounded again. Pretty soon his head was spinning, Eli Manning was on the ground six times and the Giants were shut out in a 27-0 loss.

Pugh learned from that experience.

"I have a different mentality," he said, pointing to another change from last year. "I just want to go out there and do my job. I don't have to do anything more than that."

Such thinking has impressed his teammates on the offensive line.

"Things like that happen," center Weston Richburg said of Pugh's rough game. "He's good. We talk about clapping it off, forget about what's happened and move on because the next one is the most important. I'm proud of him for continuing going. Some guys may have handled it worse and shut down, but I think he's done a good job of being mentally tough and continuing."

And getting better.

Said Coughlin, "His game has definitely improved, he's made great progress over the course of the offseason and he's been able to adjust very well to this change, and when asked to do the other roles, he's done it. He's smarter, he's more physical, he has more confidence. You see him playing at a consistent level."

The Giants hope to see that Pugh Monday night against the Eagles, not the one the world saw last year.


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