- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Osi Umenyiora says he deliberated over his predicament and has come to one conclusion.
The Giants must win this season and the best players will play. They have to in order for the Giants to be successful again.
And so what if Umenyiora isn't one of the best players? The defensive end said repeatedly on Tuesday that he will accept whatever his fate will be after his training camp battle with Mathias Kiwanuka. He insists he does not want to be a distraction and that he will be "100-percent OK" with the team's final verdict on who starts if the best player is chosen and he's not the best player. But Umenyiora did hint that he won't be thrilled if he doesn't regain his starting job if he plays to the level he is capable of.
"Would I be cool?" Umenyiora said after being asked if he would be content with a rotation if he doesn't start. "If I truly was not the best player, then I would be cool with it. If I feel like I am the best player and everybody in this league knows the type of player that I am, if I am able to play the way that I am capable of playing -- and I haven't played that way in my whole career in my mind -- the minute in my mind that I am playing the way that I am capable of playing when I am out on the field, then of course, it is going to be a problem. But I don't think that is going to happen."
During the first practice at this week's veteran's mandatory minicamp, Umenyiora started off with the second team while Justin Tuck and Kiwanuka started at defensive end. Umenyiora did see reps with the first team, rotating in as he has throughout the Giants' offseason training activity workouts.
But if there has been one thing that has been evident this offseason it is that Umenyiora will have to earn his old starting job back. Kiwanuka has been working with the first team. According to teammates, Umenyiora has been positive and focused on doing whatever it takes to help the Giants win.
The eighth-year pro said he does not want to be a distraction. After stirring things up by stating that he rather retire than come off the bench during Super Bowl week and then thinking that he would be traded after the Giants drafted defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in the first round, Umenyiora wants to stay controversy free.
The 6-3 defensive end said repeatedly that he will do whatever is asked of him by the team.
"All I know is the best players have to play this year," Umenyiora said of rebounding from last year's 8-8 debacle. "You understand? They have to. We have to win. There is no question about that. There is too much on the line right now. If it ends up that I am not in there, then I know in my heart that I truly wasn't the best player, then I will be OK with that."
Kiwanuka, a fifth-year pro, has stated that he wants to start in the final year of his contract. The former first-round pick will be looking for a new deal and feels he has put in his time doing whatever has been asked of him in the past, even moving to linebacker for a stint.
Umenyiora credits Kiwanuka for being a good player and knows the competition will be stiff. But Umenyiora is ready to remind everyone that he is a Pro-Bowl caliber defensive end.
"Been to Hawaii before?" Umenyiora asked with a smile when told that Kiwanuka won't be easy to beat out because of his first-round pedigree and the player that he is. "It is hard to get over there. Very, very difficult. You have to be of a certain pedigree to get over there."
"I feel like I am still one of the best defensive ends in the league in my head and that is pretty much all that counts."
While Umenyiora intimated that he will not be happy if he doesn't regain his starting job, he said he does not plan on making waves like when he walked out of a meeting last preseason after a spat with former defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.
Umenyiora said he saw how his unhappiness last season had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team. Sheridan benched Umenyiora later in the season for Kiwanuka and Umenyiora admitted he wasn't at his best last year.
Now Umenyiora must prove to new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell he is a starter. He says he is not trying to think too much about having to play mostly with the second squad and hopes it will simply come down to the best player winning out by the end of training camp.
"I am with the twos," said Umenyiora, who also has seen reps with Kiwanuka with the first team at defensive end. "If I really decide to start to thinking about that (having to leapfrog his way back into the first team) man, it is not going to be good for this team at all. Because a lot of these young guys look up to me and the way I behave, I tend to see it rubbing off on a lot of people. So I can't have no negative energy and I can't be thinking negatively at all. I must maintain a positive outlook no matter what happens."
So Umenyiora says he will be a positive influence in training camp. And let the best players play.
"I don't want to do that [be a distraction] because at the end of the day, what's really been hurt right here is my pride," Umenyiora said. "Nothing more than that. It's not like you can go to a grocery store and pick that up. That is just a mental thing. That is something you have to deal with internally. Whatever they need me to do, I will try my best to do."
"Obviously, if I am not happy and people look at me as a leader around here, it is going to be difficult," Umenyiora added. "But no matter what happens this year, I am going to maintain a positive outlook and go from there."
8hBy Dan Graziano
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
12hBy Michael DiRocco