New York Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh was raised only two hours south from his current place of employment, but he was never a fan of the team that resides in the Meadowlands. Although it’s only a short distance drive along the New Jersey Turnpike, boundaries are defined along that stretch of roadway and clearly define one’s allegiance to the New York Giants or the Philadelphia Eagles.
For Pugh, who grew up watching the likes of Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan, playing for his hometown Eagles would have been a dream come true. However, by the end of the 2013 NFL Draft’s first round, his lifelong allegiance had disappeared.
“The Eagles drafted a guy at my position ahead of me, so it makes it pretty easy for me to become a faithful Giants guy,” Pugh said. “I don’t care at all about the Philadelphia Eagles. I'm happy to be a New York Giant.”
As he enters his second season in the league, Pugh has grown much more comfortable on a variety of levels, from offensive systems to the expectations that come from playing in one of the nation’s largest media markets.
“You're thrust into a new city, and you're in New York City, which is one probably one of the biggest media markets, and you're the first round pick, so when you come in, everyone's like 'why'd you do this today, what happened on this play,'” Pugh indicated. “I was able to get used to the way things are run and kind of what my role is on the team. Obviously going out there and playing last year helped me out, helped me gain some respect in the locker room.”
Pugh expressed his excitement about his new teammates on the offensive line, which now includes veterans Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, and Charles Brown. However, he expressed his disappointment at seeing players who mentored him in his first year in New York moving on, such as Kevin Boothe and David Diehl.
“I was fortunate enough to learn from [Diehl and Boothe], and I use what they taught me to try to help the new guys here, because the Giants, we have a brand of football we like to play,” the second-year player from Syracuse said. “I saw what it takes to win, and what those guys did.”
Also joining Pugh and the veteran additions to the offensive line is second-round rookie center Weston Richburg. Pugh has been impressed so far by the rookie, and has tried to do what he can to help Richburg, who comes from a small town in Texas, adjust to life in New York City.
“I try to give him as much advice as I can…He's already playing well, picking up the system,” Pugh said. “He's got all the tools, he's a tough kid, so I'm happy that we got him, and hopefully we'll be playing next to each other for a few more years.”
With new teammates also comes a new offensive system, courtesy of first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. A disciple of Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, McAdoo plans to run an upbeat offense in New York, much like the one Pugh and his collegiate teammate and current Giants backup quarterback Ryan Nassib played in during their time at Syracuse.
“It's very similar to that,” Pugh noted. “The play call obviously is totally different, but up-tempo style of offense is definitely there… Right now, we're trying to build that chemistry and build that camaraderie.”
Pugh indicated that the new offense should help the team as a whole, but specifically is designed to make life much easier for veteran quarterback Eli Manning, who is recovering from offseason ankle surgery. After posting the worst season of his career in 2013, Manning’s retooled offense could help him rebound in a big way. However, Pugh cautions that Eli’s down year was not solely on the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
“Last year, his year wasn't just totally off what he did,” Pugh told reporters. “Our offensive line wasn't where it was supposed to be, our receivers weren't where they were supposed to be, our running backs...so I think it's a total team effort.”
“I think with this new offense, we'll be getting rid of the ball quick, and make Eli's job easier,” Pugh added. “It's a little bit less thinking, a little bit less pressure on him.”