The body of 2010 work is extensive enough now to say that Osi Umenyiora is back.
The critics who cried for the defensive end’s trade/release/execution during a horrendous 2009 have clammed up.
So has he. Just months after a Super Bowl week media tour in which he proclaimed his own desire for a trade, he’s got his starting job back now. He’s sacking quarterbacks. And he’s even playing the run efficiently.
He looks almost like the pass-rush monster that went to the Pro Bowl in ‘07.
“We go round and round on this,” coach Tom Coughlin said, somewhat exasperated that the offseason antics have yet to fade into the past in some minds. “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.”
It has gotten to the point with Umenyiora that he appears more worried about the form his sacks take than the actual number. Not that the number’s any too shabby. His eight sacks leads the team.
But along with those sacks, he also has seven forced fumbles. Five of those came on strip sacks, his big mitt swatting the ball out of the quarterbacks’ grasp as he brings him to the ground. Sometimes, as in the case of Jay Cutler three weeks ago, the Bears’ quarterback doesn’t even have to hit the ground.
“A sack is nothing but a tackle for loss,” Umenyiora said. “A glorified tackle for loss. But if you can get the ball out, you can force some turnovers and put the offense in a good position. It's just something I do.”
He’s been doing it extremely well this year. And now, with Tony Romo coming up, he’ll have an opportunity to increase it. Romo hasn’t lost a fumble, but he’ll go into the game with a bum left thumb. It was injured in the Minnesota game and underwent x-rays Monday.
The Cowboys will also go in with a weakened offensive front because of left guard Kyle Kosier’s Achilles tendon injury. Romo has been sacked seven times. If Umenyiora can speed-rush his way around 320-pound left tackle Doug Free, life could get very rough for Romo.
Umenyiora’s body has been cooperating so far. The hip injury that bothered him throughout training camp hasn’t been much of a problem. And the swelling in his left knee that crops up during the week is manageable.
“He practices. He’s out there two days a week, every week,” Coughlin said. “The managing part of this thing takes place on Wednesday, and we get him back Thursday and Friday.
“He does a good job in the class room, and he looks at the tape right along with everyone else from Wednesday’s practices. He doesn’t get a chance to go through some of those things, but he learns as we go along just as everyone else in the meeting room. He does have two days of practice and he’s done well with it.”
Fellow defensive end Justin Tuck has been the direct beneficiary of two of Umenyiora’s strip sacks. Tuck leads the team with three fumble recoveries, and stands second to Umenyiora with four sacks.
“I think the entire season, he’s been playing really well,” Coughlin said of Umenyiora. “He certainly has given us some excellent opportunities to create turnovers. We were just talking about this upstairs that there was a time where we were frustrated because when the ball was on the ground, no one knew it was there. Justin has been there a couple of times to take advantage of the fumble, quarterback fumble.
“Osi has played well, well against the run and well against the pass. He’s shown the ability to bull rush, get on the edge, come underneath, and be in conjunction with TE and ET move and that type of thing. We encourage him to keep it up.”
He’ll need to. The division games are coming up, and a turnover here, a turnover there can be the difference between winning and losing those tussles.