Big and Rich

There may be no virtue NFL coaches appreciate more than versatility. So there's likely no more valuable Giant than offensive lineman Rich Seubert, a player who more than epitomizes the lunch pail mentality of the position.

If Giants fans don't know his face – oval, sturdy and currently swamped by an unruly beard – they certainly know his number, 69. It has become a fixture on the Giants Stadium public address system this season because of Seubert's newest role as third tight end.

Since Seubert, a former starting left guard for the Giants, does not wear a number ordained for the position, he must announce himself to the referee whenever he's sent in as a possible receiving target of Eli Manning.

"Number 69 [Seubert] reports as an eligible receiver," the referee tells the crowd over and over again during the course of a game.

And lately, those words have been enough to generate rousing applause among Giants fans.

"That [the announcement] is probably the only reason anybody realizes I'm actually in the game," Seubert said.

Seubert said the idea to use him as a third tight end and/or blocking back developed after the Giants decided to carry only two TEs – Jeremy Shockey and Visanthe Shiancoe – into the season.

"In training camp, I was just fighting for a place on the team like everyone else," Seubert said. "Last year, I was inactive for most of the season [as he continued to recover from a broken leg in 2003] and then played a couple snaps at tight end at the end.

"A lot of teams put eight men in the box [to stop the run] and the coaches figured it might be a good idea to put another offensive lineman out there. It's different out there. They are helping me as much as possible to make things sink in."

There is nothing artificial about Seubert. He's down-to-earth football, a guy as devoted to the seriousness of his work as he is to keeping the locker room loose with his pranks and antics.

"He's a physical player," Tom Coughlin said. "He matches up very well with some of those big defensive ends that are becoming more prevalent, the ones that line up over the tight end. That's been a very good move for us and it's worked out very well."

But if the fans love him it's because they likely associate with the hard times he's endured. After breaking his leg in October 2003, Seubert, seemingly on his way to a Pro Bowl season, didn't play again for almost two seasons.

"I think it's [the fan reaction] split," Seubert said. "I think a lot of people know my story, understand what's happened to me and what I've been through. Those are the diehards, I would imagine. The others just think they're probably going to get a chance to see Tiki [Barber] or Brandon Jacobs run the ball [when he's sent in at tight end]. You'd have to poll the fans."

But when the Giants ended their four-game losing streak with a win in Carolina on Dec. 10, Seubert became even more valuable when center Shaun O'Hara and tackle Kareem McKenzie left the game with injuries.

"He's [Seubert] a jack of all trades," O'Hara said.

"To be able to keep all those things organized and straight in his mind is a great compliment to Richie," Coughlin said. "He's a serious-minded, competitive person and it's certainly reflected in the way he can prepare for one, two, even three positions and then make such a strong contribution when called on. He's been an extremely valuable player for us because of this. He even backed up at left tackle for us in practice [before the Panthers game]."

When O'Hara left, Seubert moved to center. When O'Hara returned and McKenzie left, Coughlin moved left guard David Diehl to right tackle and shifted Seubert to left guard.

"We know we have the kind of depth that if people go down we have those who can step in and know what to do because they practice it," Diehl said. "That's who we are as linemen. It's like they say, you either let the moment define you or you define the moment.

"Still, it's tough for Rich. You get some reps in practice, but you're certainly not getting all of them at center or left guard. For him to do that is a testament to his preparedness. You never know as an offensive lineman when people might get hurt. This is a very tough game."

And as luck would have it, Seubert was playing guard when offensive coordinator John Hufnagel finally called the third tight end's number with the Giants sitting first-and-goal on the Panthers 2 in the third quarter of their 27-13 victory.

Seubert's backup at tight end, offensive lineman Grey Ruegamer, strayed into the end zone hoping to make a touchdown catch. But Manning's pass was too low.

"I don't think Rich would have ever forgiven Grey had he caught that pass," O'Hara joked. "There would have been tension in the O-line room."

As the Giants have come to expect, Seubert immediately took the blame for the incompletion, saying he didn't get out fast enough to the linebacker who helped bust the play.

"I would have been happy if Grey caught that touchdown pass. I messed it up for him," Seubert said. "I apologized to [Ruegamer]. I'm just a lineman. Whatever helps the team win; I'm a man. I can admit that.

"Still he should have caught it. A better athlete would have [caught it]."

More than ever before, he's a man of all positions, one of the most indispensable guys on the team.

"I don't think anyone would have anticipated he'd been shuffling around like that," O'Hara said. "But he did a great job. The toughest thing to do is to come off the bench and perform well at one position, let alone two or three. But that's what he does."

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