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Friday August 19th, 2011

If Osi Umenyiora misses any regular season time, Jason Pierre-Paul will get the call to fill his shoes. (AP)

The Giants had Osi Umenyiora's services for all of three practices before the defensive end needed arthroscopic knee surgery Friday. The issue now is when Umenyiora, who had been holding out in a contract dispute, will return to the field.

Tom Coughlin said three to four weeks, which could put Umenyiora back in the lineup for the Sept. 11 season opener. A contradicting report put a best-case scenario timeline at upwards of a month with the potential for it to go longer. Either way, New York's going to need Jason Pierre-Paul to step up.

For however long Umenyiora's out, Pierre-Paul will be the guy at the right defensive end position. He played well in a backup role last season as a rookie, notching 4.5 sacks. And he seemed perfectly comfortable as a starter in New York's preseason opener, when he recorded two sacks against Carolina in limited playing time.

The plan is clearly for Pierre-Paul to be the Giants' defensive end of the future. This offseason simply kicked that into overdrive. Umenyiora had refused to practice, demanding that his remaining contract -- two years and $7.1 million -- be reworked to give him a raise.

Umenyiora's a key cog in the Giants' defense (11.5 sacks last season), but he's also gone under the knife three times in four years -- he missed all of 2008 after surgery on his left knee, he had hip surgery this offseason, and now his right knee's been repaired. When Umenyiora's been on the field, there has been little to indicate that he's slowing down, but the steadily increasing string of injuries says otherwise.

Which makes this opportunity an important one for Pierre-Paul. Whether or not he's still the starter in Week 1, he will be a starter on the Giants' line sometime soon. If nothing else, Umenyiora's contract dispute doesn't bode well for him staying in New York past 2012, assuming he even lasts that long with the Giants.

Fortunately for the Giants, Pierre-Paul makes defensive end one of the few spots where they have legitimate depth. The former South Florida standout is not in Umenyiora's class yet in terms of being a game-changer, but he has definitely shown the potential to develop into that type of player. If Umenyiora's recovery lingers into the regular season, the Giants will need Pierre-Paul to take that next step sooner than expected.

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