During the first half of the season, tinkering and maneuvering along the New York Giants' offensive line has been common.
In the last three weeks, though, the group has played extremely well together — so well that there doesn't seem to be room for veteran David Diehl to return to a starting role.
The Giants (5-2) have won three straight and four of the five games the starting line has consisted of Will Beatty and Chris Snee at guards, Kevin Boothe and Sean Locklear at tackles and David Baas at center. The moves were made when Diehl, the 10-year vet and a staple on both Giants' Super Bowl championship teams, went down with a sprained right knee.
After practice Thursday, Diehl declared himself 100 percent healthy, but knows his recovery doesn't guarantee playing time considering the rest of the line has played well without him.
"Of course I want to play," Diehl said. "I want to do whatever I can to contribute. And of course, I'd like to be starting, but that might not be the case. I'm not going to sit and sulk about it. I'm going to help out any way I can. I can play guard, tackle, tight end. It doesn't matter to me. It's just terrific to feel good again.
"The team is playing well and that's the most important thing. I want to go out there and start, but if that's not going to happen, I'm going to support my teammates. Whether I start or not doesn't matter. The team always comes first."
Diehl said Thursday brought a major accomplishment: full participation in practice.
"It means that my name can finally come off the injury list," Diehl said. "Reading that every week drove me crazy."
The Giants head to Dallas (3-3) on Sunday with a bit of revenge on their minds. The Cowboys won the season opener 24-17 at MetLife Stadium. In that game, the Giants allowed six sacks, a stat that the offensive line vividly recalls.
"We have watched that first game a lot of times and we haven't forgotten that," said Snee, the Giants' Pro Bowl guard. "We knew that we had to do things to improve ourselves. We feel better about ourselves, but this team presents a major challenge, because they have a lot of elite guys across the board who can all get after the quarterback."
Snee, who also started for both Super Bowl-winning teams, knows things improved immensely since the first meeting with the Cowboys.
"I think that first game, we came out flat and didn't have a lot of energy," Snee said. "I like to think we've been doing better. We definitely need to do a better job than we did the last time we played them. We've definitely improved, but we can still improve more. I'm excited about the way we've played and I think there's more to come."
The Giants received good news when Baas returned to full participation Thursday.
"I think he's ready to go," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said about Baas, who was hampered by a sore knee. "It's always nice to see that injury list dwindle, that's for sure."
Beatty is feeling more comfortable with his linemates.
"As we play more games together, we've grown together. I think we've shaken off the cobwebs and we're playing well together," said Beatty, a fourth-year tackle. "It's not like a magic trick. We've worked hard to get going. We saw a lot of things we did wrong in that first game against Dallas. We've seen the things where we messed up.
"We still have a strong offensive line. We're all veteran players and having Diehl as our sixth man is a great option. It's not like we've brought in someone new and thrown them into the fire. We've all been here."
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who sat out practice Thursday with an injured foot but vows to practice Friday, likes the way the line is blocking for him.
"They're really coming together and you can see the results," said Bradshaw, who is just 125 yards shy of passing Ron Johnson for sixth on the Giants' all-time rushing list. "They're getting great movement off the ball and creating big holes. They're all helping each other and will give anything to help each other."
NOTES: Bradshaw, who would not say which foot is bothering him, didn't think it would keep him out of action Sunday. "I'll practice tomorrow (Friday). I'm not having as much pain with it as I had, but I didn't want to have a setback. I'll be 100 percent by Sunday.". TE Martellus Bennett is not getting overly excited about returning to Dallas, where he played last year. "I have nothing to show the Cowboys or anything like that," Bennett said. "All my emotions are to this organization and to the things that we're trying to build. It's about relationships I'm trying to build with these guys here, so I have nothing to show them. I have nothing to show to anybody else outside this organization and myself."
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