Linval Joseph is a third-year pro who turns 24-years-old on Wednesday, but this week he is the Giants' most experienced defensive tackle.
Rocky Bernard, the 11-year veteran who started the season first four games, will miss Sunday's home contest against the Cleveland Browns. Bernard, who has played in 152 regular-season games and been credited with almost 400 tackles, will be replaced by two players who made their NFL debuts last month and have played a combined six games and have three tackles – Marvin Austin and Markus Kuhn.
"We play with what we have," coach Tom Coughlin said today.
Austin was the Giants' second-round draft choice in 2011. He missed the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle after sitting out his final college season at North Carolina because he was dismissed from the team. Austin then missed most of this year's preseason because of a back injury and did not play in the first two regular-season games.
"He's got work to do," Coughlin said. "He's got a ways to go. Each week he gets a little bit better and his opportunity will be there again. For us to accomplish what we want to, he's going to have to play well."
Austin, who did not record a tackle in the two games he played, is confident he can do just that.
"I think I will be called upon and I believe that I'll be ready for that challenge," Austin said. "I've just got to go out there and play football. I know I'm a good football player, that's what I've been doing. It's just time for me now to step up and go out there and show it."
Kuhn, native of Germany who played at North Carolina State, has played in all four games and assisted on three tackles. He said he is "absolutely" ready to play a bigger role this week.
"I have to step up since Rocky is down," Kuhn said. "I've been practicing all week like I always have and now it's time for me to go out there and improve what I can do even more."
Coughlin said Kuhn has "done okay. He's a good, young prospect. He works hard, he's physical. He's done alright."
Joseph said he feels no extra pressure because he's suddenly the Giants' most experienced player at the position.
"Rocky is out, I play both sides, now the young guys have an opportunity to step up and play a little bit more on defense this game," he said. "They know what to do, but at the same time, I'm a second set of eyes so if a guy is out of position, I need to tell them to slide over, or do this, or do that. Just help the young guys out."
Bernard was starting because Chris Canty is on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing offseason knee surgery. Canty must miss at least two more games. It is possible Justin Tuck and/or Jason Pierre-Paul will get some snaps at tackle on Sunday. But until Bernard and Canty return, the young defensive tackles must play well for the Giants.
"I know for myself and Markus Kuhn, it's a big opportunity and to whom much is given, much is expected," Austin said. "So we've got to go out there and be prepared and step up."
*In addition to Bernard, the Giants declared four other players out of the game: wide receivers Hakeem Nicks (foot/knee; announced yesterday) and Ramses Barden (concussion), safety Kenny Phillips (knee) and cornerback Jayron Hosley (hamstring).
Two players are doubtful: tackle David Diehl (knee) and linebacker Keith Rivers (hamstring). They both practiced on a limited basis.
Four more players who were limited today are questionable: linebacker Michael Boley (hip), safety Antrel Rolle (knee), cornerback Corey Webster (hand/hamstring) and guard Chris Snee (hip). All but Snee have said publicly they will play on Sunday. Regarding Snee, Coughlin said, "we'll keep monitoring his progress and we'll see."
Center David Baas (hand) and cornerback Michael Coe (hamstring) practiced fully and are probable.
For the Browns, defensive back Tashaun Gipson (knee) and tight end Alex Smith (head) are out. Wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin are doubtful with hamstring injuries.
*Coughlin said the team will not put Phillips on the short-term injured reserve list, which would require the player to sit out for at least eight weeks.
"We do think he'll be ready prior to that," Coughlin said.
*The Giants trail in the regular-season series, 26-19-2, and the postseason series is tied, 1-1. The Giants are 9-12-2 in home games vs. Cleveland, including a 27-10 triumph in Giants Stadium on Sept. 26, 2004. From 1950-69, the Giants and Browns had one of the NFL's fiercest rivalries, playing each other twice each season (except for 1968). Since the Browns moved to the AFC in the 1970 merger, they have gone head-to-head only eight times (each team has won four).
*The teams last met on Oct. 13, 2008, when the Browns shutout the Giants in the second half and rolled to a 35-14 triumph. It was the Giants' only loss in an 11-1 start. The memory of that defeat could deliver a little extra motivation to the Giants who endured it.
"I remember," Coughlin said. "There are a lot of them in the room who don't remember, they don't have any recall of that. I mention it to those that were here. Along with the fact that at one point we were 11-1 and we only had the one blemish."