Defensive end Osi Umenyiora managed to be both apologetic and cryptic in some wide-ranging comments today. But the one thing that he left undetermined was his role in the Giants' defense next season.
The only definitive statement on his future was that he is not strictly a third-down lineman, a contention many who have watched him this year might have a problem with. Other than that, he's not sure what his role will be, or which team it might be with.
He wouldn't even go so far as saying he had no intention of asking for a trade or release from a contract that runs through 2012 and will pay him an economical $3.1 million next season.
"We've got to focus on Minnesota right now," Umenyiora said. "After that, all these other things I promise you will take care of itself, man. After that, we'll go from there."
That's not exactly what you'd call an absolute no, especially in light of the fact that Umenyiora said things definitely have to change on the defense to bring a smile to his face. He apologized for the way he acted after Sunday's loss, saying his thoughts about this being possibly his last game as a Giant was a function of "being angry and frustrated, without much thought," from things having gone so horribly wrong.
But also part of it was his lack of playing time. Long believed at odds with defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan dating back to his training camp walkout, Umenyiora silently accepted his demotion to situational pass rusher after the Denver game. He said, though, that he expected that to change next season.
"I am not a third down player; I am not a third down rusher," Umenyiora said. "I can play the run and I have played the run this year.
"I think I had a bad game against Denver, a bad quarter against Denver, and things kind of snowballed from there, but in actuality who on this team has played excellent every single game. Things happen, so I cannot take that away from myself because I am only in on third down and people say I can’t play the run. That’s absolute B.S because I can and the film is there to prove it."
Umenyiora said it would be a waste of money to continue to pay him as a one-down lineman.
"For me, personally, not playing on first and second down and making the amount of money I'm making, and just playing on third down and being chip-blocked 90 percent of the time, I don't think they can pay me just to do that," he said. "These are very smart businessmen we're dealing with, and I don't see a way they'd be able to do that."
Although he refused to openly criticize Sheridan, one can bet that he won't be a happy camper if the rookie coordinator is retained.
That's not likely to happen, as few coordinators around the league would survive such a sharp decline in unit production as the Giants have had. But it is possible that a new coordinator could see what Sheridan saw in Umenyiora's run defense.
And this is where Umenyiora's perception of himself and reality diverge. Despite being blocked out of runs with clock-like consistency this season, he maintained that he played the run as well as he ever did.
"I'm not sure what tape everybody's been watching," he said. "It seems everybody's been watching a different film. I'm just as explosive. I'm still the same player that I was. Dr. Warren, Ronnie Barnes, all those guys did a tremendous job putting me back together. I don't look at myself and see any difference in the player I was before. And anybody who knows football and watches football said the same thing."
Apparently, Sheridan didn't think so, otherwise he wouldn't have demoted Umenyiora for Mathias Kiwanuka. As it happened, the run defense improved after that, and three of the next four opponents totaled under 100 yards rushing.
Now, despite Tom Coughlin's proclamation Monday that Umenyiora will remain a valued and integral part of the team, there is controversy surrounding the defensive end's future.
"I love this team," Umenyiora said. "I've spent the last seven years of my life here, and I have a lot of great friends here. But the situation cannot continue the way it is. Some things definitely need to change.
"I'm not a general manager, so I don't know what's going on. I've tried for the most part to do everything that's been asked of me. But the last couple of weeks -- obviously I'm a great competitor and a man of great pride -- it's been difficult. It's been rough. But I've tried to keep my mouth quiet and do what's been asked of me."
That has been to come in on obvious passing downs and do what he has always done best -- rush the passer. And, in fact, for a few weeks, his frequency in the backfield did improve. He had two of his team-high seven sacks in two of the last three games, and added a forced fumble against Philadelphia.
But he said he by no means wants to keep that role.
Nor does he prefer the controversial route to a solution.
"That's not the way I want to represent myself," he said. "I just said some things that day that were part of the frustration and anger of the moment. It's not something I plan on doing again.
"But at the end of the day, I can't settle for anything less. I can't settle for not playing or doing anything like that."
Depending on what happens in the offseason, he may have little choice about it.
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