Last season, right tackle David Diehl was one of the few rookies who got to hit the NFL highway and keep pace with the other big wheels. He not only started at right guard on opening day against the Rams, he was a mainstay for all 16 games, becoming the first Giants rookie to start every game since legendary tight end Mark Bavaro did so in 1985.
Like Bavaro, a 4th-round steal, Diehl was also a lower 5th-round pick. Despite being the 25th linemen selected in the 2003 Draft, Diehl played well enough his rookie season that when the Giants were looking for a new right tackle, they just glanced a little to the left.
With the addition of rookie guard Chris Snee, Diehl has made a smooth transition one spot over to right tackle. No big deal, right? Actually, with the 4.4 times of some defensive ends, the task can be similar to asking a tight end to play receiver.
"It was a huge adjustment," Diehl said. "You get more speed guys, speed rushers and you have more space to work with so I've been focusing on my techniques to improve. That's the main thing."
Even though Diehl played some tackle during his Big Ten career at Illinois, the towering 6-5, 315-pound Chicago native said he struggled a bit at first in making the adjustment to quicker, more agile ends at the pro level.
"I had some rough times at camp but I'm very confident in what I'm doing now and I'm very confident in my techniques and abilities," Diehl said. "For me it was just getting the sense and the repetition. It was a matter of getting comfortable out there. Now I feel comfortable and confident. Now I'm going out and playing like I normally do. I'm having fun."
Center Shaun O'Hara agrees. Having played both left and right guard last season, O'Hara knows a thing or two about adjusting to a new position.
"David is a hard worker," O'Hara stated. "The fact that he's been able to make a difficult transition from guard to tackle in just his second year shows what type of player he is and how good he can be."
On top of the hard work, Diehl has the frame and talent to continue to be successful at tackle. Unlike a recent article in Sports Illustrated by Paul Zimmerman, in which Mike Giddings of Pro Scout, Inc., a personnel service for 11 NFL teams, said most linemen today are "too big and fat," Diehl is a lean, muscular 300-pounder that probably has less body fat than Paris Hilton.
In fact, when talking about his craft, Diehl continually lists "technique" as one of the most important attributes he works on to improve his play. Unbeknownst to Diehl, Giddings, a former linemen himself in college, points out in the article, "The two most important things in offensive-line play, awareness and technique, are both lacking" in the NFL.
Giddings' contentious assessment aside, Diehl and his offensive line mates, O'Hara, guard Jason Whittle, Snee, and left tackle Luke Petitgout, continually work on technique and awareness, knowing what their teammates and the opposing defense is doing at all times.
Ranked 10th in the league in total offense through three games, they've come a long way from the preseason when the media and NFL analysts pointed to the O-line as the Giants weakest link.
"You gain confidence by being prepared and going through repetitions," Diehl said. "Whether it's watching extra film or running extra plays out there, extra walkthroughs, we're willing to do whatever it takes to get better. As long as we continue to do the extra things to improve we'll be successful."
Adds O'Hara: "This isn't a vendetta for the offensive line to prove anybody wrong or to get back at anybody. This is the New York Giants trying to become a winning football team and that's what it's all about."
The crew's hard work is evident in the running and passing game. Against the Browns, running back Tiki Barber had his second 100-plus-yard rushing game, and Kurt Warner got the time he needed to zip the ball for 274 yards in the air.
But the biggest statement made by the line was a 3rd-quarter, 95-yard drive right down the throats of the Browns "Dawg" defense. Actually, after a four-yard loss on the first play of the drive, the offense traveled 99 yards to score. Since Tony Dorsett has long retired, the team did it the old fashioned way: they smash-mouthed the ball a few yards at a time.
"That not only meant a lot to the line, but the whole offense," Diehl said. "The success of the offense starts up front with the front five. We understand that. We understand our role and we want to improve and get better."
One big reason Diehl has been able to be so well prepared for Sundays is his fairly talented practice opponent Monday-Friday.
"Working against Michael Strahan all week is definitely a big help," Diehl said. "That's really valuable to me because he's one of the best in the business."
While some young players might look at the prospect of playing against the NFL's reigning sack king every day as being thrown in the ocean with a side of Angus meat strapped to your back, the just-turned 24-year-old Diehl relishes the daily slugfest experience.
"He's going to be a Hall-of-Famer," Diehl said enthusiastically. "To be able to work against him all the time and to talk to him and ask him questions is huge for me."
No doubt huge enough to help Diehl become a driving force each Sunday on hazardous NFL highways.
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