New York Giants: Joe Judge talks center competition

New York Giants, Nick Gates

Among the many position battles and storylines surrounding the New York Giants is who their Week 1 starting center will be.

The Giants went into the 2018 and 2019 seasons with Jon Halapio as their starting center, but the 29-year-old is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and is a free agent. Their 2020 options include Spencer Pulley, Nick Gates, and rookie guard Shane Lemieux, who cross-trained at center in the offseason.

Head coach Joe Judge says Gates, who played tackle and guard last season, is adjusting well to taking reps at center, noting that he has “improved” and his “toughness” is admirable” (quotes per Giants.com).

“Nick’s a guy that when we got here, we knew he had a lot of flexibility position wise. He had to learn the center position. I think he’s definitely a guy who’s just locked in to doing anything he could to give himself a chance. He’s improved in the short amount of time we’ve been able to be together. He shows a good command out there in terms of understanding the offense, communicating the calls. He has a toughness about him that you like inside.”

Gates appeared in 16 games for the Giants last season, making three starts (two games at right tackle and one at right guard). He signed with Big Blue as an undrafted free agent in 2018 but didn’t make his NFL debut until last season due to a foot injury.

Pulley has started 10 games at center for the Giants since 2018. Judge says Pulley is “a great communicator on the line of scrimmage and in the huddle.”

“Spencer’s a tough dude, he’s a smart guy, he can run the show out there, he understands what we’re trying to do, he understands what the defense is trying to do, he’s a great communicator on the line of scrimmage and in the huddle. Both those guys have done a tremendous job competing.”

Judge says the competition between Gates and Pulley is “scratch even.”

Whoever claims the center job will likely be accompanied by rookie tackle Andrew Thomas, Will Hernandez, Kevin Zeitler, and Cam Fleming on the offensive line.

New York Giants: Who Should Start At Center In 2020?

New York Giants, Spencer Pulley, Jon Halapio, Nick Gates, Shane Lemieux

Arguably the weakest position on the New York Giants‘ roster in 2020 is the center position. The Giants made it a priority to upgrade the offensive line this offseason. However, the team did not address the center position.

The Giants spent three draft picks on the offensive line in 2020: Andrew Thomas at left tackle, Matt Peart at right tackle, and Shane Lemieux at guard or potentially center. New York also signed offensive tackle Cameron Fleming in free agency.

While rookie Shane Lemieux could count as a center acquisition, he is a guard, and the Giants did not make any other acquisitions at the center position this offseason. The Giants will be rolling into training camp on July 28th with a mostly unchanged group of centers. Spencer Pulley is still on the roster, but Jon Halapio is not. The Giants have not yet re-signed Halapio after his last two tumultuous seasons on the team, though that could change if he is healthy.

Competing for the center position this summer are three players. Shane Lemieux, the rookie out of Oregon, could join the competition despite being a guard in college. Spencer Pulley is penciled in as the starting center right now because he is the only player on the roster to have started games at center in the NFL. Then there is also Nick Gates, the underrated offensive lineman who started three games at two different positions for the Giants in 2019.

Who Will Be The Starting Center?

Spencer Pulley?

Nick Gates, Spencer Pulley, and Shane Lemieux will be the three main players competing for the starting center position in 2020. Of those three players, Spencer Pulley is the only one with any experience as a center in the NFL. Nick Gates has played offensive guard and offensive tackle in the NFL, but never center. Shane Lemieux has yet to play a single snap in the NFL and was a guard in college.

Pulley might have the most experience, but he has the least potential. Spencer Pulley has been in the NFL since 2016. Throughout his career, Pulley has been a decent replacement-level starter or backup. He has been the Giants’ backup center for the past two years and even got the opportunity to start 9 games as the team’s center in 2018, filling in for the injured Jon Halapio.

In 2018, Pulley was decent, allowing 12 pressures, and two sacks in 573 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. However, in his one start with the Giants in 2019, Pulley played a poor game and was a liability as a run-blocker. This start was in Week 10 against the Jets where Saquon Barkley ran the ball 13 times for a total of 1 rushing yard.

Spencer Pulley provides professional experience and durability to the Giants’ center position. But, in my opinion, he is the option with the highest floor and the lowest ceiling. The Giants should consider Pulley a backup center and hope that one of these young guys wins the starting job.

Shane Lemieux?

The youngest player in the group is Shane Lemieux. The Giants drafted Lemieux out of Oregon in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. During his collegiate career, Lemieux was a solid player on Oregon’s great offensive line.

Despite never playing center in his career, Shane Lemieux will be considered for the position with the Giants. Upon being drafted by the Giants, Lemieux instantly started training to be a center. In the video below, you can see him practicing his snaps:

Shane Lemieux is one strong hog molly. He stands in at 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 310 pounds. He was also efficient in college, posting an 83.9 overall grade according to Pro Football Focus, surrendering only 11 pressures. Shane is a young, darkhorse candidate to win the center position if he has an impressive training camp and preseason.

Nick Gates?

In my opinion, Nick Gates should be the Giants’ starting center in 2020. Gates has spent his time in Las Vegas this offseason training to be a center with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

“You know, just for what it’s worth, we’ve talked about Nick [playing center]. He did do some of that last year in practice, so it’s not completely new. Nick is smart. The thing you love about Nick is just how tough he is, because it’s a fist fight in there. There’s no doubt about that. History tells you that the toughness of your team is really, really indicated by the toughness of your offensive line. So, we’re always looking for that kind of piece. Nick would be in consideration at center, absolutely.” – Dave Gettleman on Nick Gates

Nick Gates did practice at center in 2019. He also started games at both right tackle and right guard in place of an injured Kevin Zeitler and an injured Mike Remmers. In Gates’s start at right guard in December he did not allow a single pressure and played an excellent game. Gates finished the 2019 season with a 77.0 overall grade and only 1 sack allowed in 290 snaps (Pro Football Focus).

If Nick Gates can replicate his success playing tackle and guard in 2019 at the center position, he should own the job in 2020. Gates was a pleasant surprise on the Giants’ poor offensive line last season. He has played a small sample size of snaps, but those snaps have all been efficient and reliable. Nick Gates could be the guy to turn the Giants’ biggest weakness into a strength.

New York Giants news 6/13: Jon Halapio recovery update, Patrick Graham receives praise from former Giant

New York Giants, John Halapio, Eli Manning

The New York Giants are taking a different approach their defense in 2020 with former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. They want to utilize a mesh of different schemes and sets, determined to brew a sense of unpredictability and versatility on a weekly basis.

Former Giants, Jonathan Casillas, gave an excellent review of Graham:

“I feel like Pat Graham, he’s learned so much,” Casillas told Giants.com. “He’s a guy that has been so versatile. He was a linebackers coach, a d-line coach, DB (coach) and defensive coordinator, and has kind of been all over the place. But I think that versatility has given him a lot of education in different parts of the game, and that’s going to translate over to him being a great defensive coordinator.”

“It’s not just the x’s and o’s,” he said. “It’s identifying with the players that you have in the locker room. A lot of great coaches sometimes aren’t great player-coaches. You know, not player-friendly… It’s a little bigger than the x’s and o’s. It’s about culture and having the players’ trust and believing in you.

“I think Pat Graham has risen to that to where he’s gotten the defensive coordinator job. The players will believe in him because I feel like he’s a coach who believes in his players. Not the scheme, not that he makes all the good ideas, but the guys that he put in certain positions because of his education and everything that he’s learned. But also, his studying, his due diligence on those guys, that they’ll be put in the right place to win. That’s what the Giants needed.”

The ability to adapt to your players and identify with them is a major factor for coaches in the NFL. Success depends on your ability to reach them on a personal level and convince them to buy into your system. If they feel like they are on the outside looking in, failure is just around the corner. Graham seemingly has the ability to maximize his relationships with players to bring the best out of them.

How is Jon Halapio recovering?

Halapio is 23 weeks post-Achilles surgery. He previously returned from a broken leg in 2019, and while he did struggle at the center position, he will remain a competitor with the Giants during training camp. The expectation is they will develop a position battle at center, consisting of Halapio, Spencer Pulley, Shane Lemieux, and Nick Gates.

Ultimately, Halapio is in serious danger of losing his starting job, but he has the experience to remain on the roster as a depth piece. His return to the field as a positive sign in his recovery, but he still has a long way to go before he can be considered a reliable starter at center in the NFL.

 

Shaun O’Hara: Pulley the Right Choice at Center For Giants…For Now

New York Giants, Spencer Pulley, Jon Halapio, Nick Gates

The New York Giants have been building up their offensive line this offseason, adding three tackles and an interior lineman in the draft and free agency.

The one position they haven’t formally addressed, however, is center. The Giants do have a plan, but is it a solid one? There are a lot of ‘ifs’ surrounding the center position and analyzing the situation, it seems as if they are counting on getting lucky rather getting good.

Last year’s starter, Jon Halapio, is currently not on the roster as he is still rehabbing from a Achilles injury he suffered lat last season. At last glance, Halapio’s rehab is going well and the team has even mentioned re-signing him once he’s healthy.

Halapio’s backup is Spencer Pulley, who has started nine games in his two seasons with the Giants. Pulley is a serviceable option for the Giants at the moment considering the other choices facing them at the moment.

GM Dave Gettleman has intimated that Nick Gates, who has played both center and guard for the Giants can also play center. Then, there is fifth round draft pick Shane Lemieux out of Oregon, a tough interior lineman in the mold of Rich Seubert who is mainly a guard and has never played center.

Lemieux will be working at center and so is Gates but former Giants Pro Bowl center and current NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara believes that Pulley is the Giants’ best option right now.

“I think Spencer Pulley is a good center,’’ O’Hara told the NY Post. O’Hara believes that Lemieux’s learning curve will be too steep to displace Pulley in camp this summer.

“The toughest thing a lot of guys have, if you’ve never played center, is shotgun snaps,’’ said O’Hara. “Most guys can figure out the under-center snap. Shotgun snaps, sometimes people become mental midgets with that and they just can’t handle it. It sounds to me he’s the kind of guy that is gonna stay out and snap 1,000 balls if he has to, to make sure he can handle that.’’

The experience angle led O’Hara to say that Pulley should be the starter until the Lemieux or someone else can come in and raise the level of play without sacrificing stability.

“He’s not going to come in and be better than Spencer Pulley right away,” O’Hara said of Lemieux. “Just from a mental standpoint, making the calls. And you got a young quarterback too. Daniel Jones has not seen every defense yet. Would I want a second-year quarterback and a rookie center playing? Heck no.’’

That may not deter the Giants from fast-tracking Lemieux into the center position. They want change up front and quickly.

What are the New York Giants doing to solve the center problem?

New York Giants, Nick Gates

The New York Giants have one spot that needs filling; what are they doing to solve it?

Everybody believed the Giants would allocate draft capital toward the center position, but GM Dave Gettleman and Hc Joe Judge turned the other cheek toward a spot that has lacked talent in recent years.

Jon Halapio has been the Giants’ center of choice the past few seasons, despite breaking his leg and suffering a torn Achilles tendon in back-to-back seasons. Gettleman was confident that he would return to full health in 2020, stating:

“Halapio is coming back, hopefully he’ll be ready to go and recovered from the Achilles by June. We’re just going to keep working at it,” general manager Dave Gettleman said during a conference several weeks ago.

This is a good sign for a team who’s fall-back option is Spencer Pulley, a journeyman center who cannot be trusted as a starter. However, Halapio isn’t an elite player either; some might even argue he just barely scratches average. Finding a better offensive lineman to fill the void would likely be in the best interest of the team, which is where former UDFA Nick Gates and fifth-round draft pick from 2020 Shane Lemieux comes into play.

“I understood that this game is all about versatility,” Lemieux said on a Zoom interview, accordoing to Giants.com. “I think that me getting good at all three interior positions is going to benefit me well in the future. I don’t really have a position. I just want to be ready whenever I get in, to be ready to play whatever coach asks me to.

“I think I’m an offensive lineman, that’s what I’m coming in as. That’s what I have been playing, I’m a football player. I’m a football player that plays offensive line. No matter where the coaches want to put me to help the team, that’s where I’m going to go.”

Gates has reportedly been taking snaps under center the past few months in preparation for a potential move to the inside, and Lemieux is also capable of making the transition. With Halapio and Pulley expected to return next season, a competition battle will likely be the result of management’s lack of injection into the position.

Having four players battling it out at the position, the Giants can be confident the winner will be at the very least serviceable. An added benefit is they will have significant depth scattered across the offensive line.

 

How the New York Giants can shake up the offensive line this offseason

New York Giants, Nate Solder, Jon Halapio, Mike Remmers

The New York Giants must prioritize several positions this offseason, especially with $80+ million in cap space and valuable draft capital. New head coach Joe Judge made it apparent that he will seek tough, disciplined players who go 100% on every play, even if they’re down by 30 points.

Finding mentally tough players isn’t an easy task in the NFL when your franchise has been scolded by a lack of effort and negative criticism for years on end. However, the Giants have an opportunity to re-write their legacy in the coming months, and it starts with protecting their franchise quarterback, Daniel Jones.

Jones, who endured his first season in the NFL in 2019, suffered at the likes of LT Nate Solder and center Jon Halapio (38 sacks in 12 games started). Both LG Will Hernandez and RT Mike Remmers struggled in their own ways, primarily due to a lack of cohesion on the line. Offensive line coach Hal Hunter did a poor job developing their chemistry and allowing them to play to the best of their ability. Judge will be on the lookout for a new OL coach, preferably Bill Callahan.

The journey forward will undoubtedly include the injection of better talent on the line. The draft offers ample options in the first two rounds, especially Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills Jr., and Tristan Wirfs. All three would cost GM Dave Gettleman a first-round selection, but it could also open up the idea of trading back and collecting more draft capital to use later on.

With the trading of Leonard Williams last season, Gettleman forfeited a third-round selection. If he elects to let him walk in free agency, he will recoup the pick through the compensatory algorithm. However, it will be a later third-round pick than the earlier selection he forfeited for Williams. This opens the door for trading back and adding value in the second round. With several quarterback hungry teams sitting being Big Blue, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Who can the New York Giants target in free agency?

Pending free agents include Jack Conklin, Andrew Whitworth, Anthony Castonzo, Bryan Baluga, and more. This offseason holds plenty of tackle targets for the Giants, but it boils down to price and need. Are the Giants keen on bringing on a cheap player via the draft, or are they confident in reserve OL Nick Gates?

One way or another, Gettleman will bring in an offensive lineman, the method he uses is the big question.

 

 

Giants’ Center Jon Halapio Promises to Be Ready for 2020 Season

New York Giants center Jon Halapio vows to be ready for the beginning of the 2020 regular season. Halapio underwent surgery after the Giants’ Week 17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles to repair a torn Achilles tendon, an injury – depending o it’s severity, can keep a slyer laid up for 8-10 months on the average.

The Giants are committed to Halapio, who will be a restricted free agent at the end of the league new year in March. The injury is troubling for Halapio for several reasons. First, it’s the second year in a row he’s had to have surgery to repair a debilitating leg injury. Last year, he fractured his leg in Week 2 and missed the remainder of the year.

The Giants will likely leave Halapio unsigned, placing a mid-round tender on him to keep another team from snatching him up, then place him on the PUP list to insure that he stays healthy through training camp.

In the interim, the Giants have Spencer Pulley in the fold. They signed Pulley to a three-year, $8.025 million deal before the 2019 season and would step into the starting role should Halapio not be able to return for the season.

Halapio had an uneven season in 2019 but still had the confidence of the Giants’ coaches. It would behoove them to find a longer term solution at center in the upcoming draft.

New York Giants Won’t Tank For Second Pick, Claims Shepard

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants still have two games left in the season, but unsurprisingly, more of the focus right now is on the future Draft and on their position – right now, they hold the second overall pick and would likely be in a position to take Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young, but that might not remain the case. The Giants are in a tough spot where anything but losing out could result in their position dropping and the Miami Dolphins or the Washington Redskins moving up to seize their pick.

It’s not a situation that anyone wants to be in, but much of the fanbase will be hoping to varying degrees that the rival Redskins pick up the win on Sunday – not out of any love for the Redskins but because a win for the Giants means their draft hopes will end up dashed, and Young likely won’t end up on the team when everything is said and done.

But according to the players themselves, the Giants aren’t going to tank for Young.

“If you were here to see how we have to prepare, and some of the stress we put our bodies through throughout the week, mentally and physically, then I’m sure your mind will quickly change on going out and playing a game to lose,”  wide receiver Sterling Shepard said in the New York Post. “We’re never gonna play to lose.”

“My goal is to win this game, and I’m 100 percent sure everybody in this locker room feels the same,” added center Jon Halapio.

Of course, players themselves are known to not play to lose – tanking tends to come from the top of the organization, meaning we may have to wait and see what approach the Giants take as an organization to this game. Teams generally want to win whenever possible, but when the number two pick is on the line and the future of the team could change with the result of this game, things may be a little different.

New York Giants Week 10 Game Day Inactives: Who’s Out & Who’s In?

The New York Giants face off against their in-town rival New York Jets today at 1:00 p.m. Both New York teams have struggled tremendously this season, combining for 3 wins. The Giants are 2-7 while the Jets are 1-7.

Here is the Giants’ Week 10 injury report for their matchup against the New York Jets.

Week 10 Inactives:

Seven players are inactive for the New York Giants today:

  • Tight end, Evan Engram (foot)
  • Wide receiver, Sterling Shepard (concussion)
  • Right tackle, Mike Remmers (back)
  • Center, Jon Halapio (hamstring)
  • Guard, Chad Slade
  • Linebacker, Chris Peace
  • Quarterback, Alex Tanney

This means that four starters will not be playing today for the Giants. Mike Remmers and Jon Halapio will each miss their first game of the season. Evan Engram will be inactive for the second time this season. Sterling Shepard will miss his sixth game of the season (and could miss even more). Slade, Peace, and Tanney are healthy scratches (as usual).

Week 10 Replacements:

The Giants will start Rhett Ellison in place of Evan Engram today. Ellison has seen limited playing time in 2019 but has made the most of his opportunities. He has caught 15 passes for 125 yards and 1 touchdown so far this season. Rookie Kaden Smith should also see some playing time.

Sterling Shepard is out again, so expect to see another game with a high volume of targets for Golden Tate. Darius Slayton and Cody Latimer could also see an increased role.

Nick Gates will make his first career start today at right tackle in place of Mike Remmers.

Spencer Pulley will be back in the Giants’ starting lineup today, filling in for Jon Halapio. Pulley played in 13 games and started 9 of them for the Giants in 2018.

The Giants will also have a few reserve players active to serve as backups. Offensive tackle Eric Smith, offensive lineman Evan Brown, and linebacker Devante Downs will all be active for the Giants today.

New York Giants news, 11/10 – Giants promote offensive lineman and waive defensive lineman

New York Giants, Olsen Pierre

Good Morning, New York Giants Fans!

The New York Giants promoted offensive lineman Evan Brown to the active roster on Saturday before their week ten matchup against the Jets at MetLife stadium.

With center, Jon Halapio already ruled out and right tackle Mike Remmers on the fringe of missing the contest, Brown was added to give the Giants additional reinforcements.

Brown was signed by Big Blue as an undrafted free agent out of SMU in 2018. He started all four years in college, giving him the essential experience to compete at the professional level. Up to this point, the reserve lineman has not been able to crack the starting team, but he will receive an opportunity to impress if called upon. Nick Gates will be next in line to take over at tackle if Remmers is unable to go.

The New York Giants waive a defensive lineman:

To make room for Brown on the active roster, the Giants waived Olson Pierre. This move makes sense considering the Giants recently traded for Leonard Williams, adding a rotational piece to the three defensive tackles. Pierre, however, had been productive in limited action this season, logging 2.0 sacks, three tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, over just 28 percent of defensive snaps

What will the offensive line look like against the Jets?

The New York Giants will trot out Nate Solder at left tackle, Will Hernandez at left guard, Spencer Pulley at center, Kevin Zeitler at right guard, and Nick Gates at right tackle if Remmers is unable to play.

The Giants’ front five has struggled in recent weeks against superior defensive fronts, so a change to the starting unit could prove to be a positive thing. There’s no better team to test out different players than the 1-8 Jets.

Nonetheless–

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