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Matt Dodge, Steve Weatherford Seek Leg Up In Giants Camp

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — A year ago, Matt Dodge and Steve Weatherford were the regular punters for New York’s two football teams — Dodge with the Giants and Weatherford with the Jets.

Now they’re in training camp with the Giants, vying for the same job.

After an erratic season with the Giants last year as a rookie out of Appalachian State, Dodge knew he’d have competition this summer.

“I would be pretty ignorant to think that I’d be the only one in training camp,” he said. “Especially since I had such an up-and-down season. To think that they wouldn’t bring someone else in to compete would be foolish.”

Still, Dodge insists there’s no animosity between him and Weatherford.

“Steve’s a great guy and an even better punter. I’m excited to be around him,” Dodge said.

Weatherford also was downplaying their competition

“Matt’s a very talented punter and he has a very good upside,” said Weatherford, who signed with the Giants as a free agent after two seasons with the Jets. I like Matt, but I’m here to compete and here to win the job.”

Weatherford said he had no plans to return to the Jets and was exploring offers from Houston, Jacksonville and Chicago when he heard from the Giants.

“Even though I grew up in rural Indiana, I was born and raised a Giants fan,” Weatherford said. “It’s a great fit for me. I’m really excited about the opportunity.

“… I enjoyed my two years with the Jets, but it was time to move on. Nothing against the Jets, but this was the perfect opportunity for me. It’s a prestigious franchise and a great organization.”

Weatherford has spent parts of three seasons with New Orleans, had brief stops with Kansas City and Jacksonville before two solid seasons with the Jets. He averaged 42.6 yards a punt and a 38.1-yard net last season, kicking the ball 42 times inside the 20 with only four touchbacks and 27 fair catches. More important, none of Weatherford’s 84 punts was returned for touchdowns.

Dodge can’t say that.

The rookie had some bright moments for the Giants, averaging 44.8 yards a kick with a 34.3 net. But he punted the ball only 20 times inside the 20, had nine touchbacks and seven fair catches.

The biggest blemish on Dodge’s 2010 resume were the two punts that were returned for touchdowns. One in particular was damaging, the crushing 75-yard return DeSean Jackson made on the final play of the Giants’ 38-31 loss to the Eagles on Dec. 19 that killed New York’s chances of winning the NFC East title and eventually a spot in the playoffs. The game likely would have gone to overtime if Dodge had kicked the ball out of bounds.

Dodge got a lot of criticism for that kick, but took it in stride and is using it to become better.

“My comfort level is about 10 times higher this time,” he said. “I’m definitely more ready this time. When you know you’re going up against someone great, your confidence level has to be high. I have confidence being with this team and the way they rallied around me after something like that. But this is going to be fun, competing for the same job.”

Giants coach Tom Coughlin likes having two capable punters in camp.

“The best word to say about it is competition,” he said. “Any time you can create competition like this, it increases the level. Quality is the key. We looked at Steve and what he was able to do in his career and we felt he would help us.”

Coughlin also addressed the Jets signing Plaxico Burress to a one-year deal Sunday. Burress had visited the Giants on Friday.

“His decision was to go elsewhere,” Coughlin said. “It’s what happens in this business. We wish him well. There were some discussions, but the player chose to go elsewhere. … I was very happy to have a chance to talk to him, but he chose to go elsewhere.”

Burress, who turns 34 on Aug. 12, caught the game-winning touchdown in the Giants’ upset of the unbeaten New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, before his career derailed after he accidentally shot himself in a New York nightclub later that year.

Coughlin also reported that defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who held out for the first day of camp Friday but reported late Saturday, had his physical Sunday morning, but had to see team orthopedic specialist Dr. Russell Warren later Sunday and was not expected to practice Sunday night.

“I spoke to Osi briefly,” Coughlin said. “Osi and Jerry (Reese) had a chance to talk, so there was something good that came out of it.”

Umenyiora is trying to renegotiate his contract, but has had a stormy relationship with Reese in the past. Coughlin fully expects Umenyiora to participate in team activities and practice Monday.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.