On guard

If rookie right guard Chris Snee feels any pressure, he keeps it to himself. As the Giants only starting rookie, the even-tempered Snee is getting on-the-job experience in front of 78,000 screaming fans. In the biggest NFL market. Under extraordinary circumstances. <BR><BR>

So it wasn't surprising to see New York's 2nd round pick flagged for three false starts in the team's 20-14 victory over the Redskins in the home opener. All on third downs. All mistakes that helped contribute to the Giants converting just 1-for-13 third-downs.

"Actually I got called for two, not three," maintained Snee softly. "One was a lack of concentration and the other one was during a blitz. I anticipated the count too quickly. I was being too eager."

Eagerness aside, whether there were two penalties or three, as the official play-by-play states, Snee realizes that even one mistake will get noticed.

"On top of staying focused, one of the biggest things I've learned is the importance of good technique on every play," Snee said. "In college I was able to get away with a wrong step here and there, but that's not going to cut it anymore."

At Boston College, also known as O-Line U, Snee dominated. As a junior last season, Snee was credited with 102 knockdown blocks – a performance that garnered him 1st-team All Big East Conference honors. But the real reward happened a few months later when Snee, 22, was the second guard taken in the draft behind All-America Vernon Carey of Miami.

"We were having a party when the draft started at 12," said Snee, about the celebration back in his hometown of Montrose, PA, an hour north of Scranton. "It was 5:30 when the phone finally rang. I was shocked when it was the Giants since the rumor was the Patriots and the 49ers were interested in me."

Unless you just moved to New York and root for one of the other 30 teams outside the region, you know Snee's father-in-law is Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Snee married Coughlin's youngest daughter Katie this summer and they're the proud parents of a one-year-old son, Dylan. So the voice on the other end of the phone wasn't just his new boss, it was his son's strict, demanding grandfather.

So it would seem natural for Snee to be a little jumpy both on and off the field. But in talking with the 6-2, 314-pounder one feels quite the opposite. Snee is quiet, relaxed and focused on keeping his personal life personal and his job a steadfast work in progress. Two things that may prove difficult to accomplish in media-crazed New York.

"I'm more excited than feeling pressure," he said. "It's a dream come true to play and now start in the NFL. I'm just excited to have the opportunity."

If the excitement gets to be too much, Snee doesn't have to look far for support. Just the next locker over. That's where right tackle David Diehl sits. As a rookie last season, Diehl, a fifth round pick from Illinois, started all 16 games at Snee's right guard spot. This season, he's made a smooth transition to tackle. The similarities and proximity have made the two fast friends.

"He's definitely one of the guys that is there for me when I need advice," Snee said. "The first day I got here he told me if I ever had any questions to ask him. And during practice he would also offer advice. I've talked to him quite a bit about a lot of things."

"If I see something and know the technique that should be used, I tell him," Diehl said. "Since I played that position last year I understand some of the things he's going through. But he's doing a great job. He's really come in here and stepped into the starting lineup."

Another person that's helped Snee out is his good friend, and fellow BC alum, Dan Koppen, who started at center last year for the World Champion Patriots.

"Dan told me to just play the way I'm capable of playing," Snee stated. "I played next to him for three years at BC. I talked to him all last year and asked him how it was and he said that it's harder mentally than physically."

With 300-pound bodies crashing against each other like grizzly bears, it's difficult to imagine the NFL to be more of a mental grind than physical. But Snee puts it this way: "In college my day of practice lasted only three hours. Here it's 7 to 4. There's so much preparation and so much detail about each opponent, it's more exhausting mentally."

Much of the mental strain is working in concert to improve a young offensive line that got its share of criticism during the preseason. With a new coach, new system and new players in the mix, the offensive line usually is the one area that takes time to develop. Unlike on defense where players can blitz and do stunts, the offensive troops have to work as a true team, providing maximum protection for quarterback Kurt Warner and perfecting blocking schemes for running backs Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne.

So far the cohesiveness of the line has been mixed. In the Giants 31-17 drubbing by the Eagles in Week 1, the line helped generate 413 yards of offense and a 125-yard, one touchdown day for Tiki Barber and 45 yards and a score for Dayne. In pass protection, however, the O-line surrendered five sacks. In Week 2, the line gave Warner time to throw, but struggled run blocking against Washington's penetrating one-gap scheme. Still, a win is a win and Warner was proud of the way the line performed.

"I see those guys progressing every week," he said. "I see them getting more confident in how to work together, what to do within the offense, how to make those decisions. It's been fun to watch them and this whole team grow."

What about the penalties and false starts? "You don't make an issue because we've all been there," Warner answered. "Whether you're a rookie or a 10-year guy, you jump sometimes. You don't really say anything just ‘Hey, let's line up and go get 'em.' We'll make up for it."

With the rookie Snee and the rest of the O-line working hard to improve, pressure is something they're only too happy to block out.

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