- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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Osi Umenyiora swears nothing has changed.
He says his left knee feels just as good as it did last season following surgery in 2008.
In fact, physically, Umenyiora might be more banged up than last season with a lingering hip issue and swelling in his knee that needs to be managed.
Otherwise, Umenyiora says he is the same quarterback-chasing defensive end he has always been. Still, his gaudy numbers this season say something has changed.
Umenyiora is second in the NFL with eight sacks and leads the league with seven forced fumbles, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In the past three games, Umenyiora has terrorized quarterbacks. He has seven sacks, including six forced fumbles.
Lawrence Taylor, eat your heart out.
Umenyiora has had as big a hand as anyone on the Giants' defense in helping turn Perry Fewell's unit into an elite group. Being two years removed from knee surgery probably helps. Also, his positive outlook and happiness with his role likely have helped him return to a Pro Bowl level.
"There's been no difference," Umenyiora said after forcing two fumbles in the Giants' 28-20 win over the Lions on Sunday. "It is all the life of the NFL. Everything is not going to go your way all the time. Sometimes it is going to happen; sometimes it won't. So far this year, things have been happening. There has been no difference."
Typically one of the most honest and charismatic players in the locker room, Umenyiora has made sure not to say much this season.
After all, he made enough headlines last year and earlier this offseason.
Last season, Umenyiora had seven sacks after missing all of 2008 due to knee surgery. But he wasn't happy. He unexpectedly left the team facility one day during the preseason and didn't see eye to eye with then-defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.
He was demoted in favor of Mathias Kiwanuka, and after the Giants' colossal meltdown last season, Umenyiora voiced his displeasure on a few occasions. He even said he'd rather retire than come back as a reserve.
The Giants drafted defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in the first round, and that led to speculation about Umenyiora's future. But Umenyiora toned down his stance about his role, and said he just wanted a fair shake in his competition with Kiwanuka and that the best player needed to start. Of course, if he was the best player at the end of training camp and wasn't the starter, he hinted, there could be an issue.
But as the offeason moved into training camp, Umenyiora emphasized how he just wanted to help the Giants win, and that he was going to be a team player and a leader. He apologized for setting a bad example last season and admitted his actions had a trickle-down effect on the defense.
Throughout camp and this season, Umenyiora has been praised by the coaching staff for his work ethic and team-first mentality.
He has started at right defensive end, and when Kiwanuka went down with a neck injury prior to the Chicago game in Week 4, Umenyiora stepped up his play. He began his current torrid pace with three sacks, including two forced fumbles against the Bears.
Head coach Tom Coughlin began shaking his head when asked what changed in Umenyiora.
"We go back and forth," Coughlin said of being reminded of Umenyiora's unhappiness earlier this year. "Osi has played well and he's made up his mind to play well and I think that his teammates and the encouragement, what he brings to the table in terms of his ability, his conviction, his desire to be the very best that he can be. That's, I think, where he is. He's an excellent football player playing very well."
Umenyiora has been playing so well that his teammates have joked that they have to slow him down or the competition for sacks that the defensive linemen have will be an afterthought if Umenyiora continues this sack run.
"One of the funniest things is we have been on Osi because we finally figured out why he always strips the ball ... so he never has to share a sack," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "We figured out Osi's plan and we have to figure out a way to combat that."
Like opposing offensive lines, Cofield has no answer for Umenyiora so far.
"A sack is nothing but a tackle for a loss," Umenyiora said. "That is all it is, a glorified tackle for a loss. But if you are able to get the ball out and force a turnover, it puts the offense in position to really help the team win, and that is really where my focus is."
5dEric D. Williams
4dMel Kiper Jr.