- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
- 0 Shares
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The pressure Justin Pugh feels on a weekly basis doesn't stem from him being the New York Giants' first-round pick this past April. It's rooted in wanting to earn the respect of his teammates.
"I want to go out there and show them I'm a tough guy, I'm going to play hard, I'm going to play for my teammates and leave it all on the field. I think that's more of the pressure I feel, making sure I was doing good for those guys," Pugh said. "I don't want to have to come in the locker room and watch the film and have to say to my teammates, 'Yeah, I screwed this up, I got Eli hit' or something like that. That's not fun."
With his play thus far, Pugh is certainly winning over his teammates.
The rookie has earned praise from his coach and teammates for his performance thus far as he's started every game at right tackle and held his own against some of the league's top pass-rushers. Pro Football Focus grades him as the top offensive lineman on the squad this year.
"He's done a tremendous job for us," Giants right guard David Diehl said. "He's a guy that week in and week out spends extra time on learning, making sure he's making improvements, and most importantly, when you're playing next to him at this point, he's not playing like a rookie anymore."
As the Giants have been decimated by injuries this year, they've needed Pugh to contribute from day one. The Giants have already started six different combinations on the offensive line, which is counterproductive for a unit that thrives on stability. Through all the different combinations, Pugh has been on the right edge for each of those games, and has shown gradual improvement.
Pugh struggled early, though, particularly against Carolina in the third game of the season. Charles Johnson abused the rookie as Carolina wrecked the Giants for seven sacks in a 38-0 win.
"I was embarrassed after the Carolina game. I played really bad. I played against a good player but I can't have someone in Eli's lap every time," Pugh said. "He showed me where I was lacking. They show you real quick where you need to work on."
After that rough performance, Pugh has played quite well. Starting against the Bears on Oct. 10, Pugh believes he's been playing his best stretch of ball, particularly in November. Pugh said he didn't play as well as he could have Sunday against Washington, when he matched up with Ryan Kerrigan, but still had some bright spots in the game.
Entering what are likely the final four games of his rookie season, Pugh said he's continuing to work on his technique, immersing himself in the playbook and working on his strength. He's received good reviews from the coaching staff and hopes to finish the season strong.
"They're happy I'm out there and fighting hard. I have to get better. Keep learning the offense. Keep improving," Pugh said. "They're never going to be satisfied just as I'm never going to be satisfied."