EAST RUTHERFORD - Michael Boley believes that one of the main reasons the New York Giants won the Super Bowl last season - and remain a solid contender this year in their eyes - is their depth straight across the board.
Look no further than on the defensive line.
"You have guys who are willing to step up and fill in," said Boley, a linebacker who remains on the Giants' injury report with a hip problem. "We have a lot of athletes on this team that can step up and play at any time. It shows the team's character. It shows that guys are always prepared.
"We have guys who know that this week could be their turn."
Marvin Austin and Markus Kuhn are two players who realize that Sunday might be their chance to shine along the defensive line. And playing a young and winless team - Cleveland (0-4) - might be a good starting off point.
Austin, the second-year tackle out of North Carolina, and Kuhn, the German import and rookie tackle out of North Carolina State, both received considerably more repetitions Friday in the anticipation of playing and perhaps starting, now that starter Rocky Bernard has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a quadriceps injury.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin wouldn't commit to either player getting the starting nod, even hinting that one of the three defensive ends - Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora or Jason Pierre-Paul - could move to the inside.
But if Coughlin has to use Austin or Kuhn at defensive tackle, he has all the faith in the world in both.
"We're going to play with what we have," Coughlin said. "Markus has done OK. He's a good, young prospect and he's a physical player. With Austin, each week, he keeps getting a little better. For us to accomplish what we want to, he's going to have to play well. "
Austin, a second-round draft pick in 2011, missed all of last season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Slowed by a back injury during preseason, Austin was inactive the first week against Dallas, then dressed, but did not play against Tampa Bay. Austin has seen limited action in both of the last two games but has not registered a tackle.
"I think I'm still getting used to playing in a game setting," said Austin, who last played regularly in 2009, because he was forced to sit out his last year at North Carolina due to a suspension. "I just have to go out there and play full speed. I've been working on technique. I just have to worry about getting too flustered out there."
But Austin realizes that Bernard's injury has opened the door to receive more playing time.
"The opportunity is everything," the 6-foot-2, 312-pound Austin said. "I have to go out there and take advantage of it. You always want to be ready and be able to be part of the rotation. I have to be ready to step up. It's not been that bad physically. I have to just get acclimated again to playing. Games are not like practices."
But it doesn't hurt to have those veterans on the line, mentoring him, of course.
"All the guys have been helping me," Austin said.
Kuhn, the seventh-round draft pick who played club football in Germany before joining the Wolfpack, has been active in all four games but with limited action.
"I'm just ready and excited to get the chance to play," the 6-foot-4, 303-pound Kuhn said. "I've been preparing every week like I'm going to play. I'm not doing anything different. I'm always ready to go. But for me and Marvin, this is our chance. We're here for a reason and we're glad that the coaching staff trusts us both enough to give us the chance to play. Me and Marvin push each other all the time. We've done so since training camp. Competition always makes people get better overall.
"I know I'm going to be playing a bigger role, that's for sure."
Notes: Boley practiced Friday and is now listed as questionable for Sunday. ... The Giants (2-2) said that DT Bernard (quadriceps), WRs Hakeem Nicks (foot/knee), WR Ramses Barden (concussion), DB Jayron Hosley (hamstring) and S Kenny Phillips (knee) are out for Sunday's game. OT David Diehl (knee) and LB Keith Rivers (hamstring) are doubtful. S Antrelle Rolle (knee), OG Chris Snee (hip) and CB Corey Webster (broken hand/hamstring), like Boley, are all questionable. And C David Baas (hand) and CB Michael Coe (hamstring) are probable..