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Newsday.com

 

Versatile Diehl learned sacrifice from father

 

 

BY ARTHUR STAPLE

arthur.staple@newsday.com

 

June 17, 2007

 

Beer and a burger.

 

That was their ritual, what David Diehl and his father, Jerry, headed out for to B.J. McMahon's every time David drove up from school during his junior year at Illinois.

 

In May 2002, David made the two-hour drive from Champaign to his family's home in Oak Lawn, a suburb south of Chicago, after spring practice ended. He had bounced around from left guard to left tackle to right tackle in workouts, after a junior season in which the Illini won the Big Ten crown and Diehl had been similarly used as a utility lineman, plugging into three spots.

 

That was OK with David, because it was his first season as a spot starter. But he thought those days were over.

 

Over beer and burgers at McMahon's, David complained to his father. He worried that all the moving around could hurt his chances to win an all-conference award as a senior, which could impair his chances of being drafted.

 

"I felt like I wasn't getting a fair shot at playing one position, and my father just said, 'Hey, there's more important things than yourself. The team's depending on you, and helping the team win is what matters most,'" David said. "He really believed that my versatility would help me in the long run."

 

He hears those words in his head a lot now, five years into his NFL career with the Giants. Diehl is as valuable to Tom Coughlin as he was five years ago to Ron Turner, the Illinois coach who is now the Bears' offensive coordinator.

 

Diehl still has to put his team ahead of his own ambitions. The Giants took a major gamble in February, cutting eight-year veteran Luke Petitgout in the hope that 2006 draft pick Guy Whimper would step up and seize the left tackle slot Petitgout manned.

 

The fall-back plan was Diehl, who will go into next month's training camp slated to start the season at a fourth position on the offensive line.

 

He was the emergency left tackle for the final regular-season game and playoff loss against the Eagles last season. He gave up a sack on the Giants' first passing play against the Redskins and didn't give up another one in either game.

 

"I have all the faith in the world in him," Eli Manning said. "He's not a guy who will ever complain, or say, 'Hey, this is the first time I've done this.' He's here every day and he works hard."

 

"Dave's an unsung hero for us," general manager Jerry Reese said. "There's not a lot of guys who could switch positions like that, and there's not a lot of guys who just come in every day during the offseason and do their jobs without a word."

 

Jerry Diehl showed his three boys - Jerry and Jeff are seven and five years older than David - what it meant to sacrifice for the good of the team. He was up and out of the house by 3 a.m. to deliver milk. His sons all went to Brother Rice, a Catholic school, instead of the nearby public school.

 

Jerry Jr. was the first football player in the family, an offensive lineman at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Jeff played basketball at Loras, too. While they were away, David was developing into a big kid.

 

"He used to walk around the house with a football and I told him, 'You're going to be an offensive lineman, so just put the ball down and forget about it,'" Jerry Jr. said. "I'd say that worked out pretty nicely for him."

 

David first played organized football as a freshman at Brother Rice, starting out as a guard and defensive tackle. By the time he was a senior, plenty of Division I programs were calling.

 

He chose Illinois, which was slogging through an 0-11 season. "It says a lot about the sort of young man David was then, and he's the same now," Turner said.

 

As a senior, Diehl started all 12 games at left guard, and the Giants took him in the fifth round of the 2003 draft.

 

By the second preseason game, he was Jim Fassel's starting right guard. After the third preseason game, Fassel pulled Diehl from the locker room and asked him to come up to his office. Jerry Jr. was waiting.

 

"I knew right then something was really wrong," David said.

 

Their father died in his sleep, of a heart attack, the night before the game. Jerry Diehl was 57. He never got to see his son play in the NFL.

 

"It was a terrible time, obviously," Jerry Jr. said. The family asked the Giants not to tell David before the game; David went home to Oak Lawn for three days and joined the team for the train ride to Baltimore for the final preseason game.

 

"There's no way he would have wanted me to miss anything, especially as a rookie," David said.

 

He truly hasn't missed anything since. Diehl has started all 66 games, 64 regular-season games and two postseason games, since he was drafted. No one on the offensive line has more Giants experience than he has; even though he's still plugging holes, he's the leader.

 

Even so, Diehl will be training with Tim Grover of Attack Athletes, who was Michael Jordan's personal trainer and has worked with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. "If I need to get quicker and work on my footwork, there's no better guy," he said.

 

He's doing this because of the possible switch to left tackle.

 

David's a father now, too, to 5-month-old Addison Elizabeth. He was never a wild guy, but even his mild single days of dinner and drinks in the city are long gone and not missed.

 

"My Dad used to say that all the time, too, that once you have kids, you really change how you think," David said.

 

He hasn't changed what's most important. Left tackle, left guard, anywhere he's needed, he'll do what's best for the team.

 

His father taught him that.

 

THE DAVID DIEHL FILE

 

Height: 6-5 Weight: 319

 

Born: Sept. 15, 1980, Oak Lawn, Ill.

 

College: University of Illinois

 

Draft: Giants' fifth-round pick (160th overall) in 2003

 

Career starts

 

by position

 

At Illinois:

 

2001: 1 at LT, 1 at RG

 

2002: 12 at LG

 

Giants:

 

2003: 16 at RG

 

2004: 16 at RT

 

2005: 16 at LG, 1 at RT

 

2006: 15 at LG, 2 at LT

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

NJ.com

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'Standup' guy Kiwanuka is eager to learn nuances of LB

Sunday, June 17, 2007

BY MIKE GARAFOLO

Star-Ledger Staff

Before Mathias Kiwanuka could answer the first question of the interview, Giants defensive line coach Mike Waufle stepped in with one command.

 

"Just make sure you tell 'em you're a linebacker-slash-defensive end," Waufle said with a pat on the back of his former pupil.

 

"I know that, coach," Kiwanuka said with a laugh. "Just call me 'Slash.'"

 

Then, with a straight face, Kiwanuka explained how he feels like a linebacker and nothing else for the first time in his football career.

 

From his first workout at his new position in March until Friday, when he and the rest of the Giants wrapped up minicamp and their off-season program, Kiwanuka said there's no comparison.

 

"It's not even close," he said. "The way things open up once you start understanding stuff ... it's like when you're young and you're trying to learn algebra. You're staring at all these numbers and letters and you have no idea what they mean.

 

"And one day, it just opens up for you and you feel like you can start teaching others."

 

For Professor Kiwanuka, Assistant Dean of the Giants' School of Linebackers, that day was Thursday.

 

"I suddenly got to the point where I was just excited to be playing football," he said, "and I wasn't worried about what position I should be in and where my alignments were."

 

Before anyone starts punching their Pro Bowl ballot for Kiwanuka as a linebacker, allow us to point out that he's yet to take a snap at the position in a live game. Sure, he played in a stand-up position last year for some obvious passing downs (and even recorded a pair of interceptions), but recognizing passes and runs on first and second down while paying attention to multiple responsibilities is a major adjustment. With time, Kiwanuka hopes to feel comfortable in such situations.

 

For now, though, the Giants are pleased with Kiwanuka's progress in two areas: His blitzing ability and his pass coverage. While it's not surprising Kiwanuka can get after the passer (he had four sacks as a rookie), the fact that he can cover so well off the bat is quite impressive.

 

Then again, all he really has to do sometimes is stand up.

 

"The guy is 6-5 with a wingspan that must make him 7-5, so the ball has to go up a lot higher," middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "So when he drops back in front of the (offense's) little curl areas, that ball has to float a little bit more to get over him."

 

The hope is the ball will often float into the hands of the safeties sitting a few yards deeper. That is, when Kiwanuka isn't the one intercepting them or knocking them away. As Pierce noted, the Giants had such a presence the past three years in linebacker Carlos Emmons, who also stood at 6-5.

 

But Kiwanuka will provide more mobility and skills than the aging Emmons, who had clearly lost a step by the 2005 season.

 

"Even last year when it wasn't about becoming a linebacker, (Kiwanuka) moved like a linebacker," Pierce said. "He's athletic, has smooth hips and he's quick. He can do everything a linebacker needs to do.

 

"Yeah, he has to get better at it. I mean, has he backpedaled a million times? No, so his quads are burning a little more than when he had his hand in the dirt."

 

And there are bound to be mental aches when training camp opens late next month. After all, a defensive end is always moving forward whether it's a run or a pass. For a linebacker, deciding whether to drop (pass) or charge forward (run) must be immediate.

 

"He has to learn; he has to play it," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He has to be put in situations where he has to make split-second decisions. He has to be able to fire from any position and not tip what his intentions are."

 

Kiwanuka admits such reads will take some time to master. In fact, he said he made plenty of mistakes on Thursday -- the day he first felt like a true linebacker.

 

"But a lot of times they were read errors," he said. "I could live with those for now. Those kinds of translation errors will get better with time and reps.

 

"The things you don't want are when you're supposed to be doing one thing and you're doing another thing. Those are the things I've been trying to eliminate."

 

But Kiwanuka hasn't gotten discouraged. And he refuses to back away from this challenge. In fact, just the other day, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo gave him an out -- a chance to drop this experiment and go back to being a defensive end.

 

"I posed this question to him the other day: 'Is this really what you want to do?'" Spagnuolo said. "And he (said), 'Coach, I want to do it. I want to make it happen.'

 

"That's the first part. The rest of it, we'll just keep (plugging) away."

 

 

 

Mike Garafolo may be reached at mgarafolo@starledger.com.

 

AOL Sports

 

Giants Violate 'Minicamp No Contact' Rule; Could Face NFLPA Inquiry

Posted Jun 16th 2007 2:48PM by Dan Benton

Filed under: NY Giants, NFC East, New York

 

The New York Giants may have brought a little unnecessary attention to themselves this week and could be paying for it shortly.

 

During a Wednesday afternoon practice, center Shaun O'Hara put rookie defensive tackle Jay Alford on his rear end. Now, while that may not seem like a big deal on the surface, it does violate the NFL's strict "no contact" policy that applies during offseason workouts.

 

 

"That's an example of when it gets a little out of control and we talked to (O'Hara) about it," Coughlin said Thursday. "You don't want players getting hurt. That's the last thing we want."

If the Giants are found to be in violation of this rule, they would first face a loss of workouts days. If they were found to be in violation a second time, they would face a potential loss of draft picks.

 

 

"We'll investigate any report of illegal contact in the offseason," NFLPA lead attorney Richard Berthelsen said Thursday. "If we are informed of illegal contact, we can request the (tapes) of practice made by the teams and review them."

I'll keep everyone updated on what punishment, if any, the Giants face.

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Giants 101

New Coordinator, New Attitude For Giants D

By Paul Perdichizzi | June 17th, 2007

E-mail | Print | Share

 

 

When Tom Coughlin started the search for a new defensive coordinator, he realized that the Giants did not only need a new coach, but they needed a new philosophy with a new attitude. Once he met Steve Spagnuolo, he knew he had found his man and offered him the position on the spot.

 

Spaguolo was exactly what Coughlin was looking for. He is fiery, passionate, wants to be in attack mode at all times and was trained by one of the best defensive coordinators in football, Jim Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles. The first thing that came to my mind the day of the Spagnuolo hiring, was finally the Giants would become a blitzing team, looking to make a play and force the opposition into mistakes.

 

While many of us fans, want our defense to blitz every play, realistically that would not work, because the offenses would pick up the schemes and take advantage of it. With that said, too often under Tim Lewis, he refused to send the pressure and the Giants were in zone defenses and got torched by it.

 

A blitzing style of defense, similar to the Eagles puts pressure on the quarterback and forces him into making mistakes. It changes the way the players on defense think and play, no longer are they just thinking about stopping the offense, but now there thinking about making a play that really impacts the game. The more you blitz, the more chances to get turnovers, which is almost always one of the deciding factors in a game.

 

Since the hiring of Spagnuolo, many players have talked about how they are excited to be in more of an attack mode this year and are looking forward to the upcoming season. To be successful, even with an attack blitzing defense, the right personnel is needed. With Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora on the outside, a solid rotation at defensive tackle, Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker, Mathias Kiwanuka moving to outside linebacker, and two physical safeties in Will Demps and Gibril Wilson, Spagnuolo believes he has the assets to bring that aggressive style of defense to New York.

 

In order for this aggressive, attack mode defense to work, a lot of responsibility is put on the shoulders of the cornerbacks, which is still one of the biggest areas of concern for the Giants. For the Giants to be successful and for them to continue to blitz the opposition, they must get better play from Sam Madison and Corey Webster this year, and have Aaron Ross quickly emerge into the play-making corner they feel he can be. With a more aggressive, bump and run coverage, I do believe Webster will benefit from the change in philosophy and may emerge as a solid player.

 

Too often last year, on third and longs, the Giants were decimated with ten yard completions, which kept the chains moving, and resulted in scoring drives. During many of those completions, the Giants were in zone coverages. This year, things will be different in those situations. Spagnuolo will follow in his mentors footsteps and bring the heat on those third downs. If you can get to the quarterback on the blitz, the quarterback is forced to either take the sack or release the ball sooner than he wanted, and many times it results in either a turnover, incompletion or a short pass before the first down marker.

 

As we approach training camp, the new philosophy and attitude of the Giants defense will be one of the stories of training camp. If Kiwanuka can successfully make the transition to linebacker, Ross quickly adapts to the NFL game, Webster elevates his play, and they do not get decimated by injuries again, the Giants defense has a chance to be successful this upcoming season.

 

NYTimes.com

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June 17, 2007

The Rush Is On to Improve the Giants’ Defense

By CLIFTON BROWN

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., June 15 — Coaching the Giants’ defense is new for Steve Spagnuolo, but watching the Giants’ defense is not.

 

Spagnuolo spent eight seasons as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, a team the Giants play at least twice every season. Hired as the Giants’ defensive coordinator in January, he says the team has the personnel to improve significantly over last season’s disappointing defensive unit, which ranked 25th among the N.F.L.’s 32 teams.

 

“We’re trying to find who we are, and what we are,” Spagnuolo said after the Giants completed a three-day minicamp Friday. “I look at it as a great challenge and I’m excited about it.”

 

Spagnuolo replaced Tim Lewis, who was fired in January and is now a defensive backs coach with the Carolina Panthers. As a linebackers coach with the Eagles, Spagnuolo worked under the defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who likes to blitz as much as any coach in the league.

 

While Spagnuolo may not completely adopt Philadelphia’s blitz-happy approach, he is looking for the Giants to have a more consistent pass rush. Mathias Kiwanuka, who had 4 sacks and 23 quarterback hurries as a rookie defensive end last season, has been converted to linebacker. Switching Kiwanuka to linebacker will put him on the field with the Giants’ two best pass rushers, defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. Kiwanuka welcomed the change.

 

“I’m involved a lot more now than I was at defensive end,” Kiwanuka said. “It’s fun. You get your hands on the ball. You want the sacks, you want the interceptions, you want the big hits, all that stuff. I’m happy to be on the field and working toward a starting spot.”

 

Coach Tom Coughlin has been impressed with Kiwanuka’s approach to the position switch.

 

“We are to the point now where he is a presence out there,” Coughlin said. “When he rushes, he is obviously a difficult guy to block, and also he is a difficult guy to get the ball over when he is rushing. We have gone into some of our different packages, and he has been able to show that he is comfortable getting himself aligned properly.

 

“We have a ways to go. He has to learn, he has to play it. He has to be put in situations where he has to make split-second decisions. He has to be able to fire from any position and not tip his intentions.”

 

Some players complained that Lewis was too critical during the final stages of his tenure. Spagnuolo’s more even-tempered approach seemed to be an early hit.

 

“He’s more of a teacher than a screamer,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “We haven’t seen that screaming side of him yet. But he’s hands on, with every position, every facet. He’s correcting everybody. That’s a good thing. Sometimes you get a defensive coordinator who might favor a certain position. It’s early, but from the early perspective, you have that sense that he’s an all-around defensive coordinator.”

 

Whenever the football hit the ground during minicamp, defensive players were required to recover it and run the other way, even if the play had been blown dead. The Giants forced 28 turnovers last season, but that paled in comparison to the Chicago Bears, who forced a league-leading 44.

 

“That’s our big focus this year, creating more turnovers,” Tuck said. “You win football games like that. It’s been a emphasis in this minicamp. We want to be an up-in-your-face, blitzing, attacking, turnover-causing defense. If we’re blessed enough to stay healthy this year, I feel you’re going to see the Giants’ defense of old resurface.

 

“It doesn’t seem like we have a new coordinator. Guys are real comfortable with the system. We’re excited to get to training camp.”

 

The Giants will need a healthy Strahan if they are to improve on defense. He missed seven games last season with a foot injury. Strahan did not participate in individual drills during minicamp, but Spagnuolo sounded confident Strahan would be ready when the Giants report to training camp July 27.

 

“I got a lot of respect for Mike Strahan, and I’m pretty certain of what he is,” Spagnuolo said. “Playing against him, he’s a class act, and he assured me the other day he’d be ready to go. He just kind of gave me that wink.”

 

Coughlin also received positive vibrations from Strahan.

 

“This guy is very proud, he loves to play,” said Coughlin. “Let’s face it, he is an exceptional athlete. He has been able to do this for as long as he has done it. To me, he is determined to come back and have another outstanding year, and we are all rooting like heck for him.”

 

Once the Giants begin the season, they will have a far better read on their defense. But the players departed minicamp ready to embrace Spagnuolo’s changes.

 

“If I had to use one word, I’d say we’ll be more of an attacking defense,” Tuck said. “He wants to utilize the speed that we have. His defense fits our personnel, and we’re excited.”

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