Slimmer Strahan back better than ever

The day after Michael Strahan was, well, Michael Strahan, the Giants star defensive end wanted to officially end a line of questioning that followed him through the spring and summer.

"The only thing about my injury that bothers me is I get questions about it every damn day,'' Strahan said, "and I'm tired of hearing it.''

Fair enough. No more questions about Strahan's right pectoral muscle.

Why should there be? In the Giants 42-19 season-opening victory over the Cardinals, Strahan blew away any and every doubt anyone could have had about his health and readiness. Leaner and perhaps even quicker than before, Strahan laid waste to Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, sacking him 1.5 times. With the Giants trailing 13-7 late in the second quarter, Strahan made what likely was the defensive play of the game. With the Cardinals on the Giants 32-yard line, Strahan powered past right tackle Oliver Ross to drop Warner for a 10-yard loss, knocking the Cardinals out of field goal range. The burst that Giants have come to expect was on display as Strahan helped stuff the Cardinals running game (a mere 31 rushing yards) with seven tackles.

End of discussion about how he'd return from the torn chest muscle he suffered last November 7 against the Bears, an injury that sidelined Strahan for the final eight games of the 2004 season.

If there were any doubts in Strahan's mind, they were cast aside on August 26, when in a preseason game against the Jets he instinctively reached out with his right arm attempting to stop Curtis Martin, putting the full load and strain on his right side.

"Nothing happened,'' Strahan said.

Nothing is a good thing.

In his mind, that was the final test. Still, heading into this season, Strahan for the first time since his emergence as a Hall of Fame-caliber force was coming off an injury that, coupled with his age (33) made it seem as if there was more for him to prove than usual.

If there was any uncertainty in Strahan's mind, it was kept well-hidden. He's lighter than at any time in his 13-year career and eager to regain his status as one of the elite defensive players in the game.

"I feel fresh,'' he said. "I appreciate playing, I know that every time I step on the field and every play I look at it as if it could be my last. The realization of that definitely has me on the field feeling like I better take advantage of every snap I get.''

Strahan's 119.5 sacks is the highest total among active NFL players and is 12th on the league's all-time list. The need for him to dominate is as great as ever. He and the emerging Osi Umenyiora form a jet-quick tandem at end but the interior of the line is not as promising. William Joseph (underachieving 2003 first-round pick) and Kendrick Clancy (former Steelers backup signed as a free agent) get the call as the starting defensive tackles, with Fred Robbins, Kenderick Allen and Damane Duckett available to be used in a rotation. For now, that group invokes more questions than answers, although Joseph came up big against the Cardinals and might finally be emerging as the force the Giants envisioned he'd be.

Strahan believes as a sleeker model he'll save wear and tear on his legs, have greater stamina and enhance his quickness. At his best, the reason Strahan is so effective was that he is the perfect blend of power and speed, with explosive quickness generated from his lower body. He says he weighs more than the 255 he's been reported to be but he clearly is much lighter than the 275 pounds he's listed as weighing.

"My endurance is better, my wind is better, just moving and cutting and all those things feels more fluid than it did before,'' Strahan said. "Simeon Rice weighs less than me, John Abraham weighs less than me. I'm stronger than all those cats, too. Don't worry about old Stray, Stray will hang in there and hold his own.''

The weight loss was Strahan's idea; the team never requested it. "I will say this, he's playing strong,'' coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's in very good shape. We'll see. You never know, as the season moves on he may want to put a couple of pounds on.''

Every week, Strahan goes against offensive linemen who are much heavier than he is, but he feels his rare combination of strength and speed gives him an advantage no matter how big the opponent lining up against him.

"When you're quicker you can get on them a lot faster than he expects and before he can get himself set,'' Strahan said. "When you're strong and you're on him, you can control him. It's more about explosion sometimes than it is size. And that's what a lot of people get lost in. Sometimes a guy gets so big his explosion is gone and he's not as quick, not as fast. But then you get a guy who is just a naturally explosive player. I look at a [New England safety] Rodney Harrison - there's no reason he should hit people as hard as he does. But he's just an explosive person and I think that's more important."

This new Strahan is sized more like a linebacker than an end. He's several pounds lighter than Brandon Jacobs, the 266-pound rookie running back.

"But he's not as good looking,'' Strahan said, "so it doesn't matter.''

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