A lifetime playing football and 10 years in the NFL have taught David Diehl a lot about the game. To Diehl, the fun doesn't start until the hitting begins.
"Until you put the pads on, it's not offensive line football," Diehl said. "This is a game about being physical and moving the line of scrimmage and that's what playing offensive line is all about."
Much to the delight of Diehl and his mates, the Giants practiced in full pads for the first time yesterday. That gave the offensive linemen their first real opportunity to hit their defensive counterparts in pass block/pass rush drills and the team periods of practice.
"That's when you have fun," Diehl said. "You're flying around. You're playing smash-mouth football. You're running the football. You're doing all those things. That's what football is all about. That's what playing this game is all about. It's going out there and being physical. For us, when you get D-ends and they're no shoulder pads, there's nothing to hit and they're slippery. It's frustrating. And then when you put on the pads, it evens the playing field."
The linemen must have done something right, because tough-to-please line coach Pat Flaherty delivered a favorable review when he met the media today.
"I like what we did yesterday, I really do," Flaherty said. "I thought as a group we competed better than what we have thus far this training camp. It's an old adage with me, that once we put pads on, that's when we start finding out about what type of group we have. First couple of practices in pads, we weren't ourselves. We have to develop a personality. (Yesterday) was the first step for us as an offensive line group to develop that personality that we need. To run the ball better, to protect better, do all the things that are necessary to have a good offense."
The Giants' O-line has a new look this year. Kareem McKenzie, the right tackle for seven seasons, was not re-signed. Diehl, who played on the left side at guard and tackle for seven years, is back on the right side, where he last played in 2004. Will Beatty is back at left tackle after retina surgery cost him the last 10 games (including the playoffs) and Kevin Boothe has retained the left guard job he had down the stretch. Chris Snee is a fixture at right guard and David Baas is beginning his second season as the Giants' center.
"I think each line develops its own personality," Diehl said. "You always have different pieces due to free agency and this and that. Usually the best offensive line is the one that you can keep together for a long time. We did that for a while. Last year was the first time we had a new group in a long time. As you saw as the season progressed, especially toward the end, how well we meshed and played together as a unit. This is just an extension of it. Now if David is in or Kevin is in there, we're familiar with one another. You've seen things that took time to build up last year where we were hitting those in stride early, because of that game time experience."
Flaherty thinks the line has more continuity now than it did at this point in camp last year, when the team had no offseason workouts because of the lockout.
"The reason I do is because we've had more work with the group," Flaherty said. "In particular, David Baas came to us and he's playing such a key position as center. He comes in and really had to learn the offense last year, and had to learn who the guys on the offensive line were. He knew them by name, but he probably didn't know anybody more than that. He played tremendous through the playoffs. Thus far, in particular, along with David Diehl, Chris Snee, and Kevin Boothe are really taking off where they left off in the Super Bowl, so I'm really pleased to see that. We are pleased to see that as a coaching staff. We still have a lot of work to do. The continuity at this point is much better than at this point last year."
Defensive line coach Robert Nunn is also pleased with his group. He is missing tackle Chris Canty, who is on the physically unable to perform list as he rehabs his surgically-repaired knee.
"Everybody came in very good shape, very good condition," Nunn said. "Most everybody has made a real commitment, as far as having their weight where they need to be. Other than Chris, he's going to be out a little bit, everything is right where we need to be right now.
"They're a formidable group. They've all come in a good frame of mind, and I'm very pleased with where they are right now."
With Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck at end and Linval Joseph, Rocky Bernard, Shaun Rogers and Marvin Austin – plus Canty – the Giants could have the NFL's best defensive line.
Nunn is more concerned with seeing improvement than securing that unofficial title.
"There are a lot of areas we talked about in the whole offseason," Nunn said. "I've got all of the good plays on cutups, and the bad ones, too. If we can clean up some of the things we need to focus on, I think we can make improvements, inside and outside."