Justin Pugh goes from 'couch' to Giants' active roster in 2 weeks

ByJordan Raanan ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 18, 2023

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Veteran offensive lineman Justin Pugh has gone from straight off the couch to being signed to the New York Giants' active roster in a span of two weeks.

Pugh, who was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 3, put pen to paper on a new one-year deal with the Giants on Wednesday, the team announced. This comes three days after he made his 2023 season debut in a 14-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

"Justin Pugh, straight off the couch," Pugh now famously said instead of his college during the "Sunday Night Football" introductions.

"I was a fan last week, watching football. I mean, how many times can you be a fan watching your favorite team, the New York Giants, and then the next Sunday you get to go play for that team on 'Sunday Night Football.' That is a story," he said Wednesday. "I really came straight off the couch and then started on 'Sunday Night Football' and nobody can take that away from me. If I never played another football game and that was my last one, I could go out like that. And then obviously, the Giants called the next day and said, 'Let's get a deal done.'"

It was already a stretch for Pugh to start at left guard in that contest considering he had one padded practice under his belt. But it was indicative of the dire state of the Giants' offensive line.

Pugh then improbably shifted over to left tackle once Josh Ezeudu exited in the first half with a toe injury. Pugh had played just five snaps at left tackle since 2015. He had mostly been a left guard ever since.

"I thought he did some good things," coach Brian Daboll said. "Again, he hasn't played tackle in a while. ... We'll give him obviously some reps out there. Make sure we get him ready to go."

It's likely Pugh will remain at left tackle in the short term since the Giants are now down their top two options at the position. All-Pro Andrew Thomas (hamstring) again didn't practice Wednesday and hasn't played since Week 1, even though Daboll said he's getting better and would work on the side with trainers. Ezeudu (toe) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, when the Giants signed tackles Tyre Phillips and Josh Miles off the Eagles' and Falcons' practice squads, respectively.

The moves were necessary with the Giants' offensive line devastated by injury. Starting center John Michael Schmitz (shoulder), right guard Evan Neal (ankle) and tackle Matt Peart (shoulder) also didn't practice Wednesday.

"There was never anything I wanted to do but sign here. My whole goal was to come here, prove I'm healthy. I told everyone it was a tryout for me to go on the practice squad. I went on the practice squad, I proved I was healthy. I did everything they asked and here we are. I get to wrap this thing up as a Giant," Pugh said Wednesday.

The news was more encouraging for quarterback Daniel Jones, who missed Sunday night's game with a neck injury. He returned to practice for the first time since he hurt his neck in Week 5.

Jones was cleared for throwing but not contact, according to Daboll. He took part in individual drills and will be listed as a limited participant in practice.

Daboll said that Jones is "getting better."

It still seems that Tyrod Taylor is on track to start Sunday vs. the Washington Commanders with Jones still not cleared for contract. But at least Daboll seems convinced that Jones will be back this season.

"It's not over," Daboll said.

For Pugh, this is his second stint with the Giants. The 11-year veteran, who began his career in New York, tore the ACL in his right knee while playing for the Arizona Cardinals last October. He was signed to the Giants practice squad earlier this month.

The plan was for him to use two weeks on the practice squad as a sort of training camp to get in game condition. Then he would reassess his health and the situation, hopefully readjusting his contract to something more commensurate for a trustworthy veteran offensive lineman who has started 120 of 121 games in his career.

But with the Giants extremely short-handed, Pugh was not only starting at left guard 12 days after signing with the team, but later shifted midgame against the Bills to left tackle. He performed more than admirably given the conditions. He allowed a sack and had two early false starts but settled down and improved dramatically as the game progressed.

"At the end of the day, I came out here to fight. I knew what I was getting myself into," Pugh said afterward. "Did I think it would be on 'Sunday Night Football'? [Left tackle] even exceeded my expectations, but it's why you play the game. Pregame, goose bumps. That's what it's all about."

Pugh called it the craziest thing he has ever done in football. He's 33 now, coming off a serious injury, and has been a guard since 2015. He played mostly right tackle his first two years in the NFL after being selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft out of Syracuse.

Related Video