Umenyiora Defends Strahan, Disses Rice

If the Giants actually sign Simeon Rice to replace Michael Strahan, do not expect Osi Umenyiora to embrace the move by welcoming Rice with open arms.

Every day the Giants have been in training camp, Umenyiora has spoken with missing Michael. The two are fast friends and have the same agent, Tony Agnone. Connect the dots. Much of what Strahan is thinking and feeling, Umenyiora yesterday was saying and revealing.

"We're not talking about Julius Peppers,'' Umenyiora said of the Panthers stud defensive end. "Simeon Rice is an outstanding pass rusher but that's what he is.''

The Strahan Saga escalated when Umenyiora in effect served as his buddy's public relations firm, stating the Strahan case in no uncertain terms. General manager Jerry Reese let everyone know he's bringing the 33-year old Rice in tomorrow for a physical in Manhattan, followed by a trip here for a get-to-know-you meeting. It's possible that Rice's injured shoulder will not pass a physical but it's also possible it does, and then the Giants have to decide if they want to give up waiting for the NFL's active career sack leader (Strahan) to make up his mind about retirement and go with Rice, who is second on that list. Strahan's four-day holdout has now cost him $57,152 (the maximum $14,288 per day) and counting.

"Obviously Jerry is not blinking, and from talking to Michael, he's not blinking, either,'' Umenyiora said.

This is evolving into quite a little soap opera. Like Strahan, Umenyiora prides himself on being a two-way defensive end, adept at rushing the passer as well as stopping the run. Rice? Not so much.

"I'm not going to go so far as to call him, whatever, what a lot of other people have called him, but people say he's not the best run player,'' Umenyiora said. "I guess people gave him that reputation for a reason.''

A casual (at best) interest in playing the run is why Rice in his 11-year career has lined up exclusively on the right side. Most NFL teams run the ball more often to the right, directly at the left defensive end. Umenyiora is exclusively a right defensive end and is adamant about staying put.

"That's kind of crazy, to ask me to move to left defensive end because Simeon Rice is coming in,'' he said. "It's ridiculous. He can't play left defensive end, that's where teams run the ball at. If the team asks me 'OK, we need you to move to left defensive end because we need you at that position' I will, but I'm not going to move to left defensive end because Simeon Rice is coming in. I won't do it.''

Why such animosity? Well, it wasn't long ago that Strahan and Rice engaged in verbal warfare, sparked when Rice declared himself "the best in the game'' and took a swipe at Strahan's legacy.

"Michael Strahan is a great player,'' Rice said. "To see him doing it late in his career, and doing what he's doing, still getting double-digits [sacks], I give him the ultimate, ultimate love. But he's still not me.''

Although Umenyiora, 25, is the Giants sack-leader three years running he's existed firmly in Strahan's shadow. "It was always about Michael Strahan, it was his defense,'' Umenyiora said. "It would be like 'Michael Strahan, Michael Strahan' and a side-note would be 'Osi Umenyiora.' Not like he was coddling me, nothing like that, but in general, he was the main guy.''

A changing of the guard could be imminent. Strahan this off-season tried to extract more money from the Giants, then opted to hold out and gave word that he's considering retirement. Umenyiora insists Strahan is "100 percent serious'' about leaving the game and puts the odds at 50-50 that Strahan returns.

"I'm going to tell him to come back every day, because as a person, as a human being, I like being around the guy,'' Umenyiora said.

Will Umenyiora soon be forced to be around Simeon Rice? Stay tuned.

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