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Coughlin says Umenyiora has to earn starting job

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tom Coughlin isn't going to hand Osi Umenyiora a starting job to keep the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end happy.

Speaking at the NFL combine on Friday, Coughlin said he has talked with Umenyiora since the season ended, but he was also a little disappointed the disgruntled veteran said he wanted to either be traded or retire if he does not start next season.

Umenyiora, who missed the 2008 season after a major knee injury in the preseason, lost his starting job to Mathias Kiwanuka roughly halfway through last season and barely played in the final weeks.

This year has the potential to be different. Perry Fewell has replaced the fired Bill Sheridan as defensive coordinator so Umenyiora is getting a fresh start now two years removed from major knee surgery.

"He's going to come in and work hard to establish that position," Coughlin said "He's a big part of our team, he certainly is a gifted, gifted football player."

Still Coughlin is not going to guarantee Umenyiora a starting job.

"I don't know how you do that," Coughlin said. "Our field is a field and competition is good; just like we tell to everybody, 'Go earn it.'"

Coughlin doesn't want Umenyiora's unhappiness to escalate. That's what happened with tight end Jeremy Shockey in the season after the Super Bowl and New York traded him to New Orleans, where he got a ring.

"There's great respect for Osi and his ability, and I think vice versa Osi for the New York Giants," Coughlin said. "I think he wants to be here and I think he wants to be part of our team."

In his meeting with Umenyiora, Coughlin said he told him that the team's expectations for him are very high and that he was an integral part of the team.

"We expect that he'll come back and work as hard as he can and be a big part of our defensive rejuvenation, if you will; competition is a very good thing; Osi is a big part of our plan," Coughlin said.

On other issues, Coughlin welcomed new Washington coach Mike Shanahan to the NFC East.

"Mike's an outstanding football coach, obviously has the two Super Bowl rings," Coughlin said. "We go back a long time competing against each other; I have great respect for Mike; this is a great division."

Coughlin refused to shed more light on the Giants' decision to release middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, the quarterback of their defense since 2005. He missed the end of last season with a neck injury.

"Antonio was a great player for the N.Y. Giants, was a wonderful acquisition for us," Coughlin said. "He had the qualities of leadership, he was able to inspire other guys around him. He certainly was a huge part of our Super Bowl team and continued to be a leader on the field; the decision was made that we were going to part ways; as I told him when he left, 'I love ya and you're a part of the N.Y. Giants history and you always will be.'"