The pivotal play late in the second quarter of the Giants' 13-10 victory over Miami on Oct. 28 epitomized how well Diehl and Seubert have worked together this season. Their success on the left side of the Giants' offensive front has been instrumental in keeping Manning relatively clean all season and in opening holes that have enabled the Giants to become one of the NFL's top rushing teams through the first half of the season. Just three months ago, they were viewed as a somewhat tenuous tandem, despite previous success at the NFL level.
The versatile Diehl was in the process of completing one of the trickiest transitions an NFL player can make – from left guard to left tackle. With Luke Petitgout playing for Tampa Bay, Diehl was responsible full-time for containing the league's most athletic pass-rushers in open space, no longer for trying to manhandle huge interior linemen. Seubert was more familiar with his position, left guard, but he hadn't started regularly since suffering a career-threatening leg injury during the sixth game of the 2003 season, when Diehl was a rookie right guard.
Diehl downplayed his own obstacles, largely because as one of Seubert's closest friends on the team he is well aware of all the trying times the seventh-year veteran overcame in regaining his starting status.
"To see Rich come back, it's amazing," Diehl said. "He has worked extremely hard. It wasn't easy. He pushed himself through some tough times and some painful times to get himself back to where he is. But if you knew Rich, knew anything about him, there were no doubts in our minds that he wouldn't get through it, just because of how tough he is as a player and as a guy, the work ethic he has, his attitude and his determination to get back to where he was."
Seubert was a pleasant surprise in 2002, when the undrafted free agent out of Western Illinois became a starter at left guard in just his second NFL season. But on Oct. 19, 2003, Philadelphia defensive end N.D. Kalu stepped on the back of Seubert's right leg, fracturing his fibula, tibia and ankle. A long, grueling rehabilitation process took well over a year, which left the playful, sarcastic Seubert on the Giants' physically unable to perform list for the entire 2004 season.
The 28-year-old lineman was healthier in 2005, and played in four games. But the 6-3, 310-pound Seubert made only one start, mostly providing insurance as a reserve guard and center. He played a more prominent role last season, including a start at left guard in the Giants' NFC Wild Card loss at Philadelphia on Jan. 7, but he still started only three regular-season games, with Diehl and rugged right guard Chris Snee entrenched as starters.
Seubert's success last season, coupled with the coaching staff's confidence in Diehl's versatility, factored into the decision to release Petitgout, despite that he performed at a high level before suffering a season-ending leg injury against Chicago last Nov. 12.
"Rich is a great overall person," right tackle Kareem McKenzie said. "He's a very funny guy, a practical joker, and just has that enthusiasm that you like to see guys have playing football. To see him start again is refreshing, because he just has a very positive outlook on life and he loves football."
McKenzie has noticed Diehl's work while playing alongside Seubert, too.
"He's a great overall professional," McKenzie said. "And this is not the first time Dave has played left tackle. You know, he has played the left side, he has played the right side, basically all the positions, except for center. And to be able to handle that load from a mental standpoint just speaks to the professionalism that he has and his ability to grasp this offense as a whole. He prepares himself well, as you can tell. At the outset of the season, people thought there was a question mark at left tackle. But he has handled it well and done a great job."
While players typically dread two-a-days, Diehl believes his training camp experience was invaluable in his smooth switch to left tackle. The 6-5, 319-pound Diehl relished studying film between practices, and then applying those notes to his second practice. He had plenty of experience in learning a new position as well, since he had already switched from right guard to right tackle between the 2003 and 2004 seasons and from right tackle to left guard between the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
He had played left tackle already, too, most notably in their aforementioned playoff defeat at Philadelphia 10 months ago.
Diehl's development at left tackle was also affected by his challenging chore in Albany. He was assigned the unenviable task of trying to stop Osi Umenyiora, one of the most dominant defensive ends in the league, on most training camp plays.
"To be able to play against a premier pass-rusher like Osi, it was a valuable experience for me," Diehl, 27, said. "Obviously, early on it wasn't the easiest thing. You're still trying to get adjusted and you've got Osi flying all over the place, and it's not the easiest thing in the world. But I knew that the more I worked, the harder I worked and harder I pushed myself, and being able to push myself against a guy like that, I knew that it would definitely pay off. And it definitely has."
Now that he is in his fifth NFL season, Diehl has tried to take the same approach with the Giants' younger linemen that Seubert used with him when he was a rookie in 2003, Seubert's third season with the Giants.
"He really took the time out to help me with different techniques, to help me with different things that he saw on film," said Diehl, who was a fifth-round draft choice out of Illinois. "That really meant a lot to me, being a young guy, to have one of the older guys step in and help me out. And I've tried to do the same, just because I know when you get to the NFL, it's not the easiest thing. You're trying to prove to the other guys and prove to everyone else that you belong, that you're part of the team. Having a guy like him do that for me really made me feel more comfortable. And if you feel more comfortable, you play better."
That much has been obvious.
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