David Diehl has stood in the Giants' offensive huddle for 10 years, but a couple of weeks ago he needed directions to find his proper spot.
For the first time in his career, Diehl wasn't in the back with the offensive linemen. Because he was to line up as an extra tight end, he was a row closer to Eli Manning.
"The first time in practice it was a little strange," Diehl said. "Asking the tight ends and the running backs to move over and being right in front of Eli during calls, it's a little bit different than being on the outside looking in. But when you're doing that stuff, you're focused in and you're doing your job."
That's what Diehl has done throughout his career. He has always been the Giants' good soldier, probably never more so than in the last two weeks.
The versatile offensive lineman started the first 142 regular season and 11 postseason games in his 10-year career. Then he suffered a knee injury against Tampa Bay on Sept. 16 that forced him to miss three games. When he was ready to return, Sean Locklear was in his spot at right tackle, the offensive line was helping the backs run for almost 400 yards in two games and not allowing a sack in three. The coaches didn't want to tinker with a successful combination, so Diehl found himself in two unusual roles – as a reserve and as a tight end.
Some players of his stature would have popped off about the unfairness of losing his job due to a short-term injury. Diehl never considered it.
"I'm just excited and happy to be back to 100 percent this week," Diehl said following another practice day in advance of the Giants' big NFC East showdown Sunday in Dallas. "I want to contribute. I want to do anything. I want to play. All the guys around me know how hard I worked to get back healthy and get back feeling good. But the most important thing I can do is just continue to work hard like I do and support these guys and help them in any way.
"Of course, I'd like to be starting out there and doing everything like I normally do, but if that doesn't happen, I'm not going to sit here and sulk. I'm just going to continue to fight and work and that's the most important thing is that all these guys, all the coaches, know how much I care and how hard I work and that's all you can do each and every day and help out in any way possible, whether it's getting reps like I did at guard and doing stuff at tackle and just playing. It's great to feel good. That's the most important thing."
Diehl and Osi Umenyiora are the Giants' most-tenured players. In his 10 seasons, Diehl has played every offensive line position but center. Last year, he started at left guard before moving to left tackle when Will Beatty underwent eye surgery. This season, he switched back to right tackle.
Then he got hurt and Locklear assumed his position.
"Sean has done a great job along with our offensive line," Diehl said. "When I was out, I was helping him watching film, breaking down things with him, going over stuff just like I normally would and on Sunday that would be no different regardless of whether they said I'd start or not. I'd still do the same thing. I'm a teammate. I'm not a selfish guy. I've never been a selfish guy. The team has always come first in my mind. Everybody knows how much football means to me. Besides my daughter, football is everything. I come here each and every day and I work hard. I have no regrets and that's the most important thing. For me, it's just great to feel back to being 100 percent this week and being off the injury list, which drives me crazy, and being able to practice and play, whether it was like last week and the week before playing tight end. Anything I can do to help contribute to a win."
Perhaps that will include catching a pass. In the victory over the Buccaneers, Manning threw a pass to Beatty, who was open in the end zone. The ball caromed off the big man's hands as if he had iron skillets tied to them. So what will happen if Manning throws to Diehl?
"I'm catching it," No doubt."
What a team guy.
*Running back Ahmad Bradshaw missed practice for the second day in a row.
"Hopefully, he works tomorrow," coach Tom Coughlin said. "That would be his day."
Bradshaw said he was being cautious.
"I didn't want to get set back," Bradshaw said. "I want to be at 100 percent on Sunday."
*Linebacker Jacquian Williams (knee) was the only other player to miss practice.
*Tight end Martellus Bennett has taken a moderate tone prior to his first visit to Dallas as a visiting player. He spent four seasons with the Cowboys before signing with the Giants as a free agent on March 14.
"I don't circle any games on my calendar; they're all the same," Bennett said. "I have nothing to show the Cowboys or anything like that. All my emotions are to this organization and to the things that we're trying to build and relationships I'm trying to build with these guys here, so I have nothing to show them. I have nothing to show to anybody else outside this organization and myself."
Bennett has 25 catches, eight shy of his career-high, for a career-best 305 yards and three touchdowns.
"I enjoy it," he said of playing for the Giants. "I think there's a lot of room for me to improve. I'm not where I want to be. I'll probably never be the tight end that I want to be because my goals are kind of set high and my standards are high. So it's just a learning process and continuing to grow as a player and be exactly what they need me to be here."
*Center David Baas (ankle), defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (quadriceps) and safety Kenny Phillips (knee) all returned to practice on a limited basis. Bernard and Phillips each missed the last three games. Baas was hurt last week.
"(Phillips) did a little something and he's going to work back into it very gradually," Coughlin said. "We'll see how he does each day."
Bernard did some individual work.
Coughlin said he expects Baas to play in Dallas.
*Kickoff on Sunday will be 4:25 p.m. It will be the Giants' first afternoon game in Dallas since 2005. The previous six Giants games in Dallas were played in prime time. They won Monday night games in 2006 and 2010 and Sunday night games in 2009 and 2011. They lost on Sunday nights in 2007 and 2008.