If anyone knows what it's like to be a rookie offensive lineman pressed into service due to an injury, it's Justin Pugh. It happened to him last summer. He was going through training camp as a fun pace, taking a handful of first-team reps, and playing mostly as the backup to David Diehl at right tackle. But then Diehl injured his thumb and Pugh became an instant starter.
"I didn't necessarily deserve it," Pugh said.
This year it's Weston Richburg who is getting the battlefield promotion. The second-round pick is the most likely player to replace Geoff Schwartz, the veteran left guard who is out indefinitely with a dislocated big toe (Schwartz is being evaluated this week and could require season-ending surgery).
Richburg said he hasn't yet spoke to Pugh about their similar experiences. But Pugh spoke to reporters about it last week when Richburg was inching toward the starting five and seemed to be making progress on the right guard position.
"David Diehl went down and I had to play," Pugh said. "With that mentality, you have to go out there and earn it. They gave you that spot for a reason. I was a first-round pick, Weston Richburg was a second-round pick. When you go out there you have to earn that right to be out there and playing. Obviously getting in the position because of where I was at and the injuries, but at the end of the day, the best five guys are going to be out there playing, it doesn't matter."
The Giants drafted Richburg with an eye on him playing right away. He is a natural center and the thinking was that he could step in if J.D. Walton was unable to play. He could also move to right guard if Chris Snee could not come back and play. What they didn't expect was for Richburg to be replacing Schwartz.
"As an offensive lineman, you have to be ready for something like that," Richburg said. "The starters are playing a lot. We're in there more. We don't rotate as much as some other positions do, so you have to be ready for any kind of injury or anything like that that happens. I was ready for whatever came at me."
Richburg said Schwartz is still giving him advice and was with the team on Sunday. He said Schwartz's spirits are high.
"That's the only way you can be, I think," Richburg said. "You have to be positive. He's going to rehab it really hard and he's a hardworking guy. He'll be back to help us soon, I think."
Until then, it will likely be Richburg's job. Tom Coughlin said on Saturday that Richburg did "ok" and "alright" in Friday's game against the Jets. That's pretty high praise, actually. Others like what they have seen, too.
"He's a good physical lineman," running back Rashad Jennings said of running behind Richburg. "He's a guy that is one to always finish his blocks. There's no question that he can get the job done."
Richburg said he still has plenty to work on. Asked if he is where he needs to be in his development as a rookie, he said: "Oh, no."
"I think if you are content with how you are playing, I think you're cheating yourself," he said. "I always want to get better. I had some mistakes in the game that I want to correct and get better."
Like Pugh, he may not necessarily be ready for the job. But he is necessary.