Time has come for impressive Umenyiora

From the first time Giants linebacker Carlos Emmons saw Osi Umenyiora burst from the blocks he sensed the making of a great pass rusher. But Emmons, with 18 sacks in his first nine seasons, wanted to be sure there was another element in the mix. He wanted Umenyiora to promise him he'd never give up on his ability during a play.

"I've seen [the talent in Umenyiora] since I arrived," Emmons said. "I didn't know much about him when I came to the Giants. Then I watched him rush the passer and called him over to the side. I told him that I've seen many guys try it and I think he was as good as anyone in the league at it. He just had to learn to believe in himself, not to give up too early on his rush.

"There are times when you don't get good push early when you give up on the play. Sometimes against a faster tackle you come off the ball and your speed isn't working. Sometimes you give up on it, rely solely on the bull rush. That plays right into [the tackle's] hands by doing that. I told him to stick with what he does. Osi told me he realized he did that some times. And he started to work on it."

That work has started to pay off handsomely for one of the NFL's rising stars at defensive end.

"I'm impressed recently with number 72 [Umenyiora]," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "I don't know that I can say his name properly, so I'm not going to mention on how to say it. But, I think he's a good young player."

Umenyiora, who had just eight sacks in his first 29 games, led the NFC with 10 sacks prior to last Sunday's critical NFC East game against the Cowboys. He rose to the conference lead with his eye-opening exploitation of Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, a perennial Pro Bowler.

"You make plays against the best and that's when you start to get recognized, just like when Dwight Freeney [of the Colts] took advantage of Jonathan Ogden [of the Ravens]," Emmons said. "That's when people started jumping on his bandwagon."

The pundits started hanging off the edge when Umenyiora sacked Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with 4:15 left before halftime. Jones had not allowed a sack since Nov. 9, 2003. And late in the fourth quarter, Jones was called for a penalty trying to contain his quick opponent.

"You can say Walter Jones is human," Jones said after the game.

Led by Umenyiora's eight tackles, two sacks and forced fumble, the Giants defense notched three sacks against an offensive line that had allowed three in its last four games. They also drew four holding penalties, although one was negated by an offsetting defensive holding. Hasselbeck, one of the NFL's coolest customers this season, threw an interception under pressure and was penalized for intentional grounding.

"Everybody said [Seattle] had the best running back [Shaun Alexander] and the best (left) tackle [Jones]," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "The guy (Umenyiora) had two sacks on him."

Umenyiora, who had seven sacks in the five games leading up to Dallas, also impressed Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who once coached the legendary Reggie White.

"Their two defensive ends are very, very good," Holmgren said. "Everyone knows about Strahan, and then number 72 (Umenyiora), everyone will know about him if they don't already."

In his third season flanking Michael Strahan, one of the greatest defensive ends of all time, Umenyiora has flowered into a force just as frightening.

"They have to acknowledge him now," Giants defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy said. "They have to account for him. If they don't, it's them just being stupid. But the problem for an offensive line is, who do you block? You do you give your attention to? Eventually, [the decision] will start to open up opportunities for us on the inside, too.

"But I'm not surprised to see this from Osi. I saw him rushing like crazy in camp. He's been doing the same thing, but now the plays are being made. People [quarterbacks] aren't getting rid of the ball as quickly, maybe. But he's been making plays all year. [The Seahawks game] was just Osi being the great player he is. He made a couple of nice moves and came around him [Jones]. He's having a wonderful year."

He's also having a relatively quiet one off the field. Usually one of the team's most amicable players, Umenyiora has been mute to most media after reportedly being upset by something said about him on television, information that was passed along second-hand.

"I don't want to speak for Osi, but every player has his own way of preparing," linebacker Reggie Torbor said. "Maybe [the silence] is his way of focusing on the games we have left this season."

There is no doubt playing alongside a revitalized Strahan has had a positive impact on Umenyiora, who often benefits from less stringent blocking schemes.

"There's no question about that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "The whole front works so well together because if there was one person you could go ahead and stop with protection, then an offense would be able to go and do that. But it is more difficult to try to make decisions [when there is more talent]. That's basically what ends up happening. But Michael and Osi are very aggressive, very persistent. And they continue to pressure, and if the ball is not released exactly on time, then they are around the ball."

But there's a sense Umenyiora yearns to be recognized on his own merit and that the notion his success is in large part due to Strahan [7.5 sacks] bothers him.

"I don't think he feels under-appreciated," Torbor said. "He knows we appreciate him. We don't look in the newspapers to see whether we're being appreciated. It's right here in the locker room with the people you are with every day. But at the same time, Michael is one of the greatest players that ever will play. So there's a respect factor involved, sort of like [Osi] paying his dues. Osi understands that. Osi's playing great right now. He knows it. We all know it. But we follow Michael because he's been through the battles and has seen things we probably won't for two or three years. Osi will have his time."


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