Shuffling The Deck

Kevin Boothe, fresh off PUP, returned to practice and could start at left guard against Dallas. But would rookie Mitch Petrus be a better choice?

Giants OL Kevin Boothe got back to full practice Wednesday, one day after coming off the Physically Unable to Perform list.

As Boothe took first-unit snaps at left guard, the question of whether he or fifth-round rookie Mitch Petrus would start there Sunday against Dallas became a major issue.

Either way, the line that starts against the 1-7 Cowboys will be a continuation of the new-look unit that was forced on coach Tom Coughlin by injuries to C Shaun O'Hara and LT David Diehl. Both players, O'Hara with his right Lisfranc sprain, and Diehl with a partially-torn hamstring, remained inside during practice, and it's anybody's guess how long they'll remain out.

Diehl's left tackle spot won't be a problem, of course. Shawn Andrews proved he's an able player there, even though he made his original Pro Bowl reputation as an Eagles' guard. He seems to have taken to the tackle spot.

"To be honest, when he first came to us, he talked about playing tackle," Coughlin said. "We know the experience at guard, so we maneuvered to have him play guard and tackle, just as we had done with a bunch of guys who played center and guard.

"We experimented in different spots and along with that came all of the things you do in pass-rush drills against the very good pass rushers in our own building, so there were some positive signs."

Andrews has said he doesn't mind playing tackle, either, so that position does not raise a problem.

The question is at left guard, however. Assuming Boothe is physically ready, would Coughlin prefer the more experienced Boothe in there over the enthusiastic, albeit inexperienced, Petrus? Probably so, since Boothe has, in the past, practiced at both guard and tackle and would afford the Giants more flexibility than Petrus.

"I've been working hard," said Boothe, who tore a pectoral muscle during the offseason conditioning program. "I'm ready to line up and do whatever coach Coughlin needs."

But Petrus is healthy, and he did a good job after coming in for Diehl in the fourth quarter.

"The way he played in the fourth quarter was very aggressive," Coughlin said. "He pulled and did a nice job. He's physical. He enjoys playing. I was encouraged by it."

Encouraged doesn't mean confident, though. Coughlin would probably be much better off going with Boothe, and then inserting Petrus if Boothe's stamina wears down. Besides, Petrus is also athletic enough to move out to the extra tight end spot in the "heavy" formations, though he said he's been concentrating on the guard position.

"Right now, I don't think they want to put too much on my plate and have me screw something up," Petrus said.

Such a move, though, would free up Bear Pascoe to remain in the backfield at fullback.

Petrus also may not be as familiar with the Cowboys' 3-4 alignment, either. Trusting him against DeMarcus Ware and his eight sacks on an inside stunt might be risky over the long term.

If nothing else, the Giants' versatility will be stretched to the limit. The best they can hope for this week is to come out of the game with no further injuries up front.

But at least for now, the Giants are seeing the hidden benefits of the preseason maneuvering that was made necessary by injuries to O'Hara and Rich Seubert and Chris Snee.

"Moving people around and having to spend a lot of time with guys in different spots in the preseason, like it or not, does have it's merits in situations like that," Coughlin said. "We've just got to get positions stabilized and get the people who ware going to be in backup roles prepared and ready to go."

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