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Ailing Umenyiora focuses on winning, not starting, with Giants

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora has put his disagreements with the New York Giants behind him.

While he wants to return to the starting lineup, the eight-year NFL veteran said Wednesday if the Giants want him to come off the bench, that's fine with him. He just wants to win, especially after a disastrous 8-8 season during which he turned into a distraction instead of a playmaker.

Umenyiora's concern is about his hip. While he won't say which one is bothering him, doctors and trainers have told him that he will need surgery at some point to fix it.

Umenyiora said it won't be anytime soon because he's not looking forward to another surgery.

"It's something I've been managing for the last couple of years," Umenyiora said Wednesday in his first interview since reporting to training camp at the University at Albany on Sunday. "It's something that I'm going to continue to manage."

Umenyiora's problems date to a hip flexor injury in 2006. The pain has flared up in spurts.

It was so bad during Super Bowl week in 2008 that Umenyiora wondered whether he would be able to play against the New England Patriots. He had three tackles, two hurries and a team-high five hits on Tom Brady in New York's stunning 17-14 victory.

In recent seasons, Umenyiora said the pain has never bothered him during games. It just lasts longer once the game ends.

Despite leading the Giants in sacks in five of the past six seasons, Umenyiora admittedly has wondered whether he wants to continue playing.

"Everything that I wanted coming into the NFL, everything I wanted, I've accomplished, whether that's winning a Super Bowl or being an all-star player or being financially secure, I've accomplished all that already," he said.

He almost said in the same breath that he would like to play four more seasons.

The only thing that bothers Umenyiora is the negativity from fans who think he can't do it anymore.

"At the end of the day I still feel like I'm an exceptional player, and when I look around and I hear about people saying that this team can't do these things and this team can't go for it, I think we have an exceptional team," he said. "So this season right here is the most important, probably the most important year of my life and for this team also."

Even before reporting to training camp, there was concern about how the Giants would handle the defensive end position. Justin Tuck is assured one starting spot, leaving Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka to compete for the other.

Kiwanuka, the team's No. 1 pick in 2006, replaced Umenyiora in the starting lineup in late November, creating controversy for the team, which later fired defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.

Umenyiora, who struggled last season -- especially against the run -- wasn't happy being a backup. He even wondered late in the year whether he had played his final game with the Giants.

"Obviously I've been very selfish in the past with my demands and some of the things that I have wanted," Umenyiora said. "But I don't really feel that way anymore right now. There's enough playing time for everybody. As soon as I get on that playing field I'm going to make plays, period.

"No matter where they put me, if I'm coming off the bench, I'm just going to be the best bench player ever, so whatever they require me to do, I think they're going to use me to the best of my abilities because this team wants to win."

Umenyiora has had fun since camp opened. A couple of days ago, he chased running back Brandon Jacobs down the field, laughing all the way.

"I've been talking to the coaches and talking to everyone around and I realized that they probably really felt like what they were doing was in their best interests and it wasn't anything personal against me," Umenyiora said. "That's just the way I have to roll with it."

Whatever happens this season, Umenyiora doesn't plan to use his hip as an excuse.

"I'm not going to do that, man, that's the sissy way out," he said. "I think everybody is playing the same right now and I'm no exception. Whatever happens after this year happens. I feel like I have the mental willpower to overcome all that and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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