EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Instead of fixing one of the many holes on their defense in the first round of the NFL draft , the New York Giants took someone who could play any position on their aging offensive line.
The Giants started the process of rebuilding their offensive line Thursday night by taking Justin Pugh of Syracuse with the 19th pick in the draft.
Pugh is expected to compete for the starting job at right tackle against David Diehl, but his biggest attraction for the Giants was that he can also play guard and center, versatility not normally found in most young linemen.
“II think he is one of those guys in a game that you can plug him in anywhere and he is going to play good,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “He is big. He is smart. He had a high test score, a team captain, all those things. He is our kind of guy.”
The age of the current line was a concern. Diehl, right guard Chris Snee and center David Baas are in their early 30s and left guard Kevin Boothe will turn 30 before training camp opens. Left tackle Will Beatty is 28. Diehl had a sub-par season in 2012 and Snee had surgery after the season ended.
Pugh of Holland, Pa. also showed some smarts at the NFL Combine. When asked to name the most notable Syracuse alumnus that he knew, he was quick to say Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
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Coughlin liked the answer, and the coaches liked what they saw of Pugh on videotape. He is technically sound. He finishes his blocks downfield and he has no warts, particularly off the field. And he had size at 6-foot-4 and 301 pounds.
Reese had some concerns about Pugh’s 32-inch arm length, about inch shorter than what coaches prefer in a tackle. However, he watched game film after game film looking for it to be a problem and found none.
“There were a lot of good offensive linemen in this draft, up there at the top of this draft,” Reese said of the draft in which six linemen went in the top 11 picks. “Everyone predicted this would be an offensive lineman, big-boy draft . You win with big people. You have to have them.”
Coughlin knew people wanted the Giants to help their defense, which was among the worst in the league in a season that saw them go 9-7 and miss the playoffs.
However, the Giants didn’t waver in their draft philosophy.
“The history of this organization is to take the best player on the board and that’s what we did,” Coughlin said.
Pugh was waiting at home for a telephone call, which came around 10:15 p.m.
“It was surreal,” Pugh said. “It was a dream of mine since I was a little kid playing tackle football in my backyard. I got the phone call with four minutes on the clock and I saw that ‘201’ number and I knew who it was. I turned the TV down and I got a big smile on my face. It was crazy. Then coach Coughlin said: ‘Welcome to the New York Giants.’ It was amazing.”
A three-time All Big East selection, Pugh skipped his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. He missed the first four games last season recovering from shoulder surgery, but Reese said the shoulder was examined and it is not an issue.
Coughlin said Pugh will be given a chance to compete for a starting job at right tackle with Diehl.
“I’m sure that competitively he will have that opportunity,” Coughlin said. ” If he wins the job, then he would be the starter.”
Pugh, who didn’t have a private workout with the Giants, was confident.
“I think I can come in and compete,” Pugh said. “I am confident in my abilities to come in and start, but also at the same time whatever the coaches want me to do I’ll being willing to do and take on that role happily.”
Marc Ross, the team’s director of college scouting, said Pugh put on an impressive performance in the Senior Bowl.
“He played a bunch of different positions at practice and during the game,” Ross said. “And then his intelligence, he had one of the higher test scores this year. Just talking to him, communicating with him at the combine, it will be an easy transition for him.”
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