Fans who follow the Giants closely know that David Diehl is a versatile lineman who has started games at every offensive line position except center.
But Diehl is getting some competition from Kevin Boothe.
Boothe was a three-time All-Ivy League player at Cornell while starting games at right guard, right tackle and left tackle. As a rookie with the Oakland Raiders in 2006, Boothe started 14 games at right guard. In five seasons with the Giants, Boothe has played right tackle, started seven games at left guard and has twice filled in at center – in the 2010 season finale in Washington and last Sunday in Arizona, where he snapped for the entire second half after David Baas aggravated a burner.
Boothe insists he doesn't have a favorite position. He is normally one of the Giants' two substitute linemen active on game day, ready to fill in anywhere when called upon.
"That's one thing about our offensive line, everybody learns how to play everything," Boothe said this week. "Even (right tackle) Kareem (McKenzie) and (right guard) Chris (Snee), and Dave, so you never have a favorite, because you never know what could happen. So you have to be prepared to adjust on the fly."
This week, Boothe personifies those words. He will establish another milestone in a career marked by flexibility and versatility when he starts for the first time at center when the 3-1 Giants host the 1-3 Seattle Seahawks in MetLife Stadium. Baas has been declared out of the game.
"I take pride in trying to prepare myself for whatever situation might present itself in a game," Boothe said. "Being active, things can happen, there can be a variety of injuries or different circumstances that require you to play different positions, so you have to be ready for it all."
Elsewhere on the injury front, running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) and defensive end Justin Tuck (neck/groin) did not practice and are listed as doubtful. The Giants listed three players as probable: linebacker Michael Boley (knee), defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee) and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (ribs). They were limited in practice.
Boothe's transition to center seems to have been seamless and everyone expects the line to continue to play well with him in the middle.
Coach Tom Coughlin was asked what the line loses with Boothe replacing Baas.
"The thing you don't lose is the savvy and intelligence and the ability to make the call," Coughlin said. "He has been a guy that has learned multiple positions since he has been here. He is very sharp and he will direct traffic in there. He will play well and he has always played well when he has been put in that spot. … We like to think that we are on course to stay basically the same."
Diehl, who is as familiar with anyone with the challenges of switching positions, lines up next to Boothe and expects no decline in efficiency or production.
"That's the good thing about having a backup like Kevin," Diehl said. "He's a veteran. He's been in this offense. He's (cue the New England accent) wicked smart from Cornell, the Ivy League guy. It's great that we have a veteran that can step in and make all of the calls. He knows the offense. He's gotten a ton of experience at both center and guard. So that's where having a veteran like that, who can back-up not only center, but three positions and knows everything, that we don't have a drop-off, it's awesome."
But center is vastly different from guard because a) Boothe will snap the ball every play, and b) the center is charged with making the blocking calls on the line.
"There's a ton of responsibility on identifying things and helping make calls and stuff like that," Diehl said. "Kevin does a great job."
Boothe played only one season for the Raiders, who waived him on Sept. 1, 2007. He was awarded to the Giants the following day and has been here ever since. Boothe played in all 16 games in both 2008 and 2009, though much of his action was on special teams. Last year, a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the offseason cost him the first eight games of the season. He played in eight games with five starts, the most games he's started as a Giant.
In a normal week, Boothe will practice in several different spots. But he always prepares as if he's going to start.
"You have to be ready," Boothe said. "There are seven guys active on game day, five starters and two reserves (the other has been Stacy Andrews). So those two reserves have to have their eye on the game and be ready to go in at any of the five spots, because there are only two of them. So if you're up, you're ready to go. You approach the game as if you're a starter because you never know, it could be one play, it could be the last play of the game, you have to be ready to go in."
Boothe was ready last week, when he learned at halftime that Baas was done for the day. He came out of the locker room and snapped the ball several times to Eli Manning. Boothe entered the game for the Giants' first series of the third quarter.
Offensive linemen usually aren't noticed unless they make a mistake. That's fine with them, because most prefer to work in anonymity. But Boothe was thrust into a harsh spotlight on the first play of his second possession, when rookie nose tackle David Carter slipped past him and crashed into Manning, forcing a fumble that Darnell Docket recovered. Arizona scored two plays later to extend its lead to 20-10. But Boothe and the line were solid for the rest of the game, protecting Manning so he could complete seven of eight passes on two late touchdown drives, as the Giants rallied for a 31-27 victory.
"(Carter) made a nice move – it was one of those unfortunate things," Boothe said. "I'm glad we were able to fight back, keep our heads up, learn from it, and end up winning the game."
When he's on the sideline during a game, Boothe will study the opposing defensive linemen and report to Diehl, Baas and Snee about what he sees. In essence, he's another coach on the sideline.
"I think that just comes with a little bit of time and being in that room with those guys, those vets that have played hundreds of games," Boothe said. "I've learned a great deal from those guys over the years. They've really taught me how to study opponents and pick things up.
"I do that all the time with the interior guys – the Daves and Chris. I'll look at the interior of the defense and the linebackers and things like that and we'll talk about it when they come off. And I try to be an extra set of eyes for (line) Coach (Pat) Flaherty and Jack (Bicknell), and let them know what I saw."
On Sunday, he'll get to use that knowledge as a first-time starter at center.
"I've started a few times," Boothe said. "It hasn't been at center before, but I've played center, I've played guard, I've played tackle. So I don't think it's anything that would cause me to lose sleep."
Nor will anyone else on the Giants.
*If Jacobs does not play, D.J. Ware will be the No. 2 running back behind Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie Da'Rel Scott would be active for the second time this season.
Ware has been with the Giants since Dec. 4, 2007. Since then, he has played in 33 games and has only 38 rushing attempts, including three this season, all against St. Louis.
"It's been a little frustrating, but I know how to deal with it because I've dealt with it before," said Ware, who played as part of a trio of running backs at Georgia. "It's one of those things where I just have to sit back and be patient, keep working, don't let anybody outwork me and then when my chance comes, just take advantage of it.
"This is a golden opportunity, the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm just trying to be there when my number is called."
Ware's most productive game as a Giant was his 13-carry, 66-yard performance in a 41-7 victory at Seattle last season.
"I realize that it was a good game last year and I got a chance to get in there and get 13 carries in the fourth quarter," Ware said. "That is productive, so I am just trying to continue to follow up with that."
*Baas' absence will end his personal streaks of 67 consecutive games played and 45 consecutive starts. He last missed a game on Sept. 10, 2007, when he did not suit up for the San Francisco 49ers' season opener vs. Arizona.
*Osi Umenyiora last week played for the first time since the 2010 season finale on Jan. 2. He had two sacks and a forced fumble.
"The next day I felt like I was in hell," Umenyiora said. "It was the worst I've ever felt in my life. But as it progressed it got better and better. That was my first real physical contact in 10 months. It was football soreness. Not my knee or my hip. It was just overall my body was hurting."
Umenyiora was asked how long it will take him before he's "hitting on all gears."
"I never truly feel that way throughout the season," Umenyiora said. "I just keep on striving to get better and improve my game each game. Hopefully, I'll continue to do that."
*Seattle is 1-3, was shutout in Week 2 in Pittsburgh, is ranked 32nd and last in the NFL in yards per game and 31st in rushing yards and lost to the Giants by 34 points last season. Which means absolutely nothing to the Giants.
"They're 1-3, but don't be fooled by the 1-3," Coughlin said. "This team is much-improved. They have improved on a weekly basis. They are a resilient team. They're a physical team. They give up literally no yards against the run (only 3.2 yards per carry)."
"If you watch them on film, maybe their record doesn't show how they actually play," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "I think it'll be a situation where we know we'll have to battle and be in for a fight, but as long as we do what we're supposed to do, we'll be good."