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ALBANY, N.Y. -- During the Giants' first practice of the 2010 season, new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell had his defense play a game of "Hot Potato."
The game was a hit, with players tossing the football around as quickly as they could in a circle without dropping it. The defensive players were animated, laughing and rooting one another on.
|Osi Umenyiora, right, hopes to be a starter again this season, but he could sit behind Mathias Kiwanuka.|
This season, Fewell will run his defensive ends through another traditional children's party game: musical chairs.
The Giants have five capable defensive ends, including three who would start on most teams in the NFL. Fewell has been hired not only to restore the Giants' once-intimidating defense, but also to revive the pass rush while keeping his stable of defensive ends happy and active.
With Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umenyiora, first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson, Fewell is loaded at defensive end.
"It is a good problem to have on the football field," Tuck said after the team's first practice on Monday. "We will figure it out. We are all competitors and none of us want to come off the football field but we are all team-first. We understand that there will be some certain sacrifices that need to be made to make this team better and we all want to do that."
The biggest sacrifice will be made by either Kiwanuka or Umenyiora. Both are competing for the starting spot opposite Tuck, and both have made their intentions clear -- they want to start.
Umenyiora is a former Pro Bowler who specializes in sacking quarterbacks, but he struggled last season coming off knee surgery and eventually lost his job to Kiwanuka.
The expressive Umenyiora told reporters at the Super Bowl in February that he did not want to go through another season coming off the bench. He said he'd consider retiring if he didn't start. He has since backed off the retirement talk and said he is willing to do whatever the team asks of him.
So far in the offseason and early in training camp, Kiwanuka has started with the first team while Umenyiora has spelled Kiwanuka and worked with the starters on some reps. Umenyiora said in the offseason that he believes the best players will start, and if he emerges as one of the two best defensive ends in camp and does not start, the 6-foot-3 defensive end will likely be unhappy.
Kiwanuka is entering his fifth season, and the final year of his contract. He is looking for a new deal and wants to be a full-time starter. Kiwanuka, 27, feels he has done everything the team has asked of him, including switching to linebacker at one point.
One defensive end who will be content regardless of how much he plays this season is Pierre-Paul. The 15th overall pick just signed a five-year deal worth $20 million, with more than $11 million guaranteed.
The raw defensive end has been playing organized football only since his senior year in high school, when he switched from basketball to football. And because he bounced around between two junior colleges and then missed most of camp at South Florida last year when he transferred as a junior, Pierre-Paul is really going through his first football training camp with the Giants.
"Everything is fast," said Pierre-Paul, who turned pro after his junior year. "Yeah, it's faster than college. It's been a lot because from college to another college to USF to the Giants, I have been adjusting so fast. When I got here, like my stance, I had to change it quick and I got it down pat. I had to adjust real fast."
Head coach Tom Coughlin said it was imperative that the 6-foot-5 Pierre-Paul came into camp on time to learn as much as he can.
"We all heard the stories about the South Florida experience where he was late and the coaches wisely decided there was no sense in teaching him everything, just teach him what he needs to know," Coughlin said. "In this case he gets a chance to make a nice early start. When you watch him, he was on our punt-return team his arms are [from] here to the road over there. He does a good job of a lot of those athletic things."
Pierre-Paul has taken whatever comes his way. Unlike fellow rookie Dez Bryant on the Dallas Cowboys, Pierre-Paul gladly accepts any rookie hazing. Already he has had to stand before the team and introduce himself and what school he went to and his contract numbers. He has carried helmets, and is ready to sing if need be.
He should see a few snaps, since Fewell has experimented during offseason training activities by using a super pass rush of Tuck, Kiwanuka, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul on the field together on some passing downs.
But while a rookie will gladly take whatever playing time is available, veterans like Umenyiora and Kiwanuka want as much playing time as they can get.
Umenyiora, 28, already is missing some time in camp -- the team is taking things slow with him due to a lingering hip issue from a hip flexor injury suffered in 2006.
Umenyiora will likely need surgery after the season, but has chosen to manage the injury so he can play this season.
How much he and Kiwanuka play remains to be determined.
"It is going to be tough, I am not going to lie about that," Kiwanuka said regarding whether there is enough playing time to go around. "Nobody wants to sit and watch anybody else play. But if you win games, everybody will be happy."
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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