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Giants DE Umenyiora says left knee is 99 percent healthy after surgery

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If Justin Tuck had concerns about Osi Umenyiora coming back from knee surgery, they ended the first day the two entered the weight room for the New York Giants' voluntary offseason program.

Umenyiora promptly declared he was the stronger man.

Tuck laughs telling the story, knowing that's how the defensive linemen push themselves, by challenging each other.

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When asked who really was stronger, Tuck admitted it was Umenyiora, at least for now.

"He calls himself the king right now, and me the prince," Tuck said Tuesday after the Giants held another voluntary practice at Giants Stadium. "But he has had six months of training and I had six months of being beat up."

Looking at Umenyiora, there is no doubt that he's happy to be back at work.

The defensive end tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee in a preseason game against the Jets, sidelining him for the year. He said Tuesday his knee is at 99 percent and he will be ready for the start of training camp in July.

Surprisingly, Umenyiora said the injury was not something new. It had been bothering him for two years and finally gave out in the exhibition game in August.

"I haven't been in a situation like that my whole life," Umenyiora said. "To see the way it unfolded and the pain and rehabilitation process, how grueling and how hard it was, I think that added an extra motivation (for this season)."

The 27-year-old, who earned Pro Bowl berths in 2005 and '07, said the Giants didn't take any chances with his injury.

Doctors could have "burned" out the torn cartilage, giving Umenyiora the chance to play again later in the season. However, that could have shortened his career substantially.

"That shows you what type of organization the Giants are," Umenyiora said. "If they would've said I should do that, I would've actually thought about it, like maybe I can go out there and help them. But it wasn't even a part of the discussion. They were like 'Fix it. Get it over with and come back next year."'

Umenyiora said his recovery went so well that his knee was at about 80 to 85 percent late in the season and he would have considered returning had the Giants not put him on injured reserve.

Now, Umenyiora is focusing on the coming season.

"I haven't put on pads or nothing yet, but I've been out there doing the exact same things everybody else has been doing with no problems," Umenyiora said. "As long as I'm able to do that, then I think it's where it needs to be."

The only obstacle in his recovery is getting back on the field, which he said is more a mental thing.

After his injury and surgery, Umenyiora stayed away from the team, saying it would have bothered him if he remained. He added that it was tough watching, noting the Giants' loss to the Eagles in the playoffs was hard to accept.

"It was very frustrating for me," he said. "I wasn't able to help the team. I was able to call them and give them support, but that was the extent of my help. To see the way it ended, it was very frustrating. It was a team they should have beat and would have beaten if everything was in order, and it wasn't. We'll reload next year and go at them."

With the signing of defensive end Chris Canty and tackle Rocky Bernard and the return of Umenyiora, the Giants are deep on the defensive line. They also have Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield and Jay Alford.

Umenyiora doesn't mind splitting time as long as he can get into a rhythm when he's on the field.

"We still have to play," Umenyiora said. "Everything looks real good on paper, but we still have to go out and perform."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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