On Guard

Giants right guard Chris Snee still receives occasional ribbing for being Tom Coughlin's son-in-law. Backup guard Rich Seubert is a common jabber, but that's only because, Snee smiles, "he's extremely jealous of me.''

Snee is kidding, but chances are he's the envy of a few Giants. He's 24 years old, a happily married father of two boys, and about to become one of the game's best offensive linemen.

If he isn't there already.

Snee stands at his locker a few days before the Giants open their season. He just finished discussing his pre-game puking ritual that alleviates tension. Snee's been doing it since Boston College.

But only a couple writers are treated to the tale. The pack of reporters is off talking to Tiki Barber or Plaxico Burress or Antonio Pierce. In a few minutes the horde will retreat to the media workroom to hear Eli Manning talk more about the Manning Bowl.

But the big story is here with Chris Snee, strong as a bull and agile as a matador. That's right, the big story is here with Snee.

Think about it: Tiki Barber ran for 1,860 yards last season. The Giants totaled 5,787 yards, 3,578 by air, 2,209 by ground. How many of them you think could be directly attributed to Snee? Five hundred? One thousand? More?

It's impossible to know. But know this: As the media authored eloquent season-preview stories on the stars – Eli and Tiki and Plax and LaVar – is there anyone more valuable to the Giants offense than Chris Snee?

Sure Seubert could hold the fort if Snee were hurt. But losing Snee for an extended period of time could be as damaging to the team's offense as losing Antonio Pierce was to the defense last season.

Unlimited potential, line coach Pat Flaherty says of Snee. "Chris has everything that you need to be in the elite group as an offensive lineman.''

Snee hears the favorable critiques. But he doesn't comprehend them. Words don't always carry great weight to Snee, which is why he's quiet, laid back.

"I really expect a lot out of myself and don't feel I'm at the level that I want to be at,'' he says.

That's the kind of attitude that makes coaches such as Flaherty salivate. It's one thing to be 6-3, 317 pounds. It's another thing to bench press 225 pounds more than 30 times, or pancake burly defensive tackles, or slide nimbly into pass protection mode. Snee can do all that.

On top of everything, he has a huge appetite for hard work.

"He has the power, he has the speed, he has the quickness,'' Flaherty says during training camp, one of those rare occasions when Tom Coughlin lifts the gag order on assistants. "And more importantly, he has the determination to be one of the elite players at his position.''

Snee's parents formed the typical middle-class household sharpened by love and sacrifice. Diane Snee works in a hospital and Ed Snee pours concrete – still. Chris is awed by their work ethic and unselfishness. They are his role models, his heroes.

Snee was, his words, short and pudgy growing up in Montrose, Pa. He was too big to play youth football with kids his age, so he didn't play organized ball until the eighth grade. He had a growth spurt in ninth grade. He grew two more inches his senior year. Snee was an all-state defensive lineman. He chose Boston College. He became a starter as a red-shirt freshman. He blew away scouts at the NFL combine and declared for the draft as a junior.

The Giants took him in the second round, 34th overall, to whispers of nepotism. Soon everyone knew Snee and Katie Coughlin had an 8-month-old boy named Dylan. "The main thing I was worrying about was coming out and proving I was worthy of being picked and not just because of the relationship aspect of it,'' Snee says. "People are going to say negative things.''

Hand it to Dylan's grandfather: Coach Coughlin, and general manager Ernie Accorsi, picked a gem in Snee. The nepotism angle disappeared fast, probably around the time when Snee dominated Brentson Buckner in a preseason game.

Katie and Chris were married just before his first training camp in July 2004. Dylan is 3 now, and he has a baby brother. Cooper Snee was born on June 20.

"The hardest thing, I'd say, is hoping that I'm doing it right,'' Snee says. "Looking at being a dad and how young I am and if I'm doing it right. I try to go back to the things my parents did when I was young. And the fact that I'm not around a lot. It's tough. I just try to make the most of the time I have with them. My wife has done a great job. She's learning too.''

Nobody talks about Snee as the coach's son-in-law anymore. OK, maybe Seubert and other teammates break his chops now and then. But Snee's identity is as defined as one of his crushing blocks.

Chris Snee is about to become one of the game's best offensive linemen.

If he isn't there already.

* * *

OK, so I'm a tad late with my game-by-game blow of the Giants season. For the record, I had them beating Indianapolis in the opener.

Since you are dying to know, I have them finishing 10-6 and winning the division. Have them sweeping Philly and splitting with Dallas and Washington.

Have them losing to Seattle and Atlanta and Jacksonville and Carolina. Have them beating Tampa Bay and Houston and Chicago and Tennessee and New Orleans.

Ten and six. Feel free to cut this out for darts practice. Had 12 of 16 correct last season. Still can't understand why the Giants didn't cooperate on four occasions. Blame them, not me.

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