New York Giants should see further offensive line improvements in 2021

New York Giants, Cleveland Browns

The New York Giants‘ offensive line was inconsistent in 2020. The Giants have had struggles across their offensive line for years now. It is a problem the Giants seemingly cannot fix. However, they are slowly working towards improving the offensive line, investing plenty of assets into the unit over the past two years.

The Giants traded for Kevin Zeitler in 2019 and signed Nate Solder to a huge contract in the 2018 free agency period. These are the two moves New York has made to acquire veteran talent on the offensive line. In 2020, though, the Giants shifted towards a more youthful approach on the offensive line.

New York spent the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on left tackle Andrew Thomas. They then doubled down at the position in the third round, selecting offensive tackle Matt Peart with pick number ninety-nine. But the Giants were not done there. They also spent a fifth-round pick on offensive guard Shane Lemieux in 2020.

These rookies saw plenty of playing time in the 2020 regular season. However, their performance was not always consistently good. However, there are reasons to believe that the Giants’ offensive line will improve further in 2021.

Continuity is key

The New York Giants’ offensive line severely lacked continuity and experience in 2020. Along with the rookies that saw extensive playing time, the Giants started second-year lineman Nick Gates at center, a position he had never played before. Gates was practically a rookie as well.

Taking that into consideration, the Giants had experienced players at only two of the five offensive line positions last season. Right guard Kevin Zeitler is an excellent, veteran player. Right tackle Cam Fleming is also an experienced veteran. However, the rest of the line was comprised of rookies and inexperienced players for the majority of the season.

The Giants also had no continuity along their offensive line. In terms of calling protections and passing off stunts, continuity and chemistry is crucial. No one on the Giants’ offensive line in 2020 lined up next to a teammate that they lined up next to in 2019.

Kevin Zeitler was placed between a brand new center and a brand new right tackle. The absence of Nate Solder left rookie Andrew Thomas as the Giants’ starting left tackle, sandwiching the left guard position between two newly acquired players.

The 2021 season will see the Giants’ offensive line play with far more chemistry and continuity than they did in 2020. There is not likely to be much overturn at all along New York’s offensive line. There could be a change made at the right tackle position, but the other four positions will likely be manned by the same players from last season. Additionally, the Giants made a change at the offensive line coach position midseason in 2020. Hopefully, in 2021, New York’s front line can enjoy the coaching of a singular coach. This second-year together could allow the Giants’ offensive line to grow and develop into a more continuous and consistent unit.

New York Giants getting everything and more out of 2020 rookie class

New York Giants, Tae Crowder

The New York Giants are on a four-game winning streak. This is the longest winning streak the Giants have been on since 2016. New York is also in first place in the NFC East after beating a tough 8-3 Seahawks team on the road this Sunday. The Giants look poised to make a playoff run this season, proving their legitimacy while beating one of the best offenses in the NFL in Seattle.

One of the biggest difference-makers on the Giants this season has been their 2020 rookie class. New York has seen early returns on nearly every single rookie they drafted or signed this offseason. These rookies have been crucial to the Giants’ success in recent weeks.

Rookies on offense

On the offensive line, the Giants have been seeing their young, inexperienced players improve every single week. Andrew Thomas had the best performance of his young career so far this week against Seattle. For the second week in a row, Thomas did not allow a single pressure in pass protection. He also recorded the highest single-game Pro Football Focus grade of his career at 87.1 overall. Not only was this his highest-graded single game this year, but it was also the highest single-game grade among all first-round offensive tackle picks this season (PFF).

Right beside Andrew Thomas is Shane Lemieux, the Giants’ fifth-round pick from Oregon who has been starting at left guard for the past few weeks. The entire offensive line has played significantly better since Lemieux entered the lineup. Lemieux has had his fair share of ups and downs, but he has been very impressive when considering where he was drafted. Lemieux has also been improving week-by-week and looks like he will be with Big Blue for a long time.

In addition to the two rookies on the offensive line, Nick Gates has gotten better every week playing a brand new position. Initially, a guard, then a tackle, Nick Gates has transitioned to the center position and played at a high level in recent weeks after some great struggles early in the season. Gates is basically a rookie as he is learning and playing a brand new position this year. He has shown tremendous progress, though, and is already locked into a contract extension that should keep him as the Giants’ starting center for years to come.

Undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Austin Mack also has a game this season as the Giants’ leading receiver. The Giants’ other rookie offensive tackle, Matt Peart (selected 99th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft), has not elevated to starting status yet. However, he has seen playing time while rotating in at both left and right tackle this season. He has been super impressive whenever he is on the field and could play his way into a starting role sooner than later.

Rookies on defense

The defensive side of the ball is where the Giants have really seen their rookies contribute this year. New York has been starting rookies at multiple defensive positions this year. Darnay Holmes, New York’s fourth-round selection out of UCLA, has started at slot cornerback all season long. Holmes has, like the rest, improved every single week. He certainly has not been a liability like the slot cornerback position has been for the Giants in the past. Holmes had his first career interception against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks this week. A promising future seems to be laid out for Darnay Holmes and the Giants’ defense.

The second half of the Giants’ 2020 NFL Draft class was filled with defensive selections. New York drafted the likes of Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, and Tae Crowder in the sixth and seventh rounds. Whether earned through merit or obtained through injuries, these rookies have all seen significant playing time in the Giants’ defense.

Tae Crowder, Mr. Irrelevant from the 2020 NFL Draft, has been starting on the Giants’ defense this year when healthy. Crowder has been so impressive for a player who nearly went undrafted. Crowder recorded a clutch sack against the Seahawks this week and recorded a game-winning scoop-and-score fumble recovery against Washington earlier this season. He has exceeded all expectations as a starting inside linebacker for the Giants this year.

Crowder was one pick away from going undrafted. When speaking of undrafted rookies, it is hard not to talk about Niko Lalos, the Giants’ undrafted gem out of Dartmouth. Lalos was elevated to the Giants’ active roster last week before their matchup with the Bengals. In his first NFL game, Lalos recorded an interception and earned more playing time this week. Of course, the Ivy League animal went ahead and recovered a fumble this week against Seattle. This undrafted rookie has been forcing turnovers left and right.

Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin were two under-the-radar linebackers that the Giants found late in the 2020 NFL Draft. Coughlin has seen increased playing time with EDGE Kyler Fackrell recently placed on injured reserve. Coughlin has played 79 defensive snaps this season, already totaling 6 combined tackles, 1 sack, 8 total pressures, and 6 hurries. Cam Brown has played 48 snaps, recording 5 pressures 3 hurries, and 8 combined tackles already.

Second-round pick Xavier McKinney has yet to see expanded playing time after returning from a fractured foot, but he is sure to be part of New York’s long-term defensive plans as well.

The Giants have seen early returns on nearly every rookie they drafted or signed this offseason. It was a job fantastically done by Dave Gettleman, Joe Judge, and company, acquiring young, talented players this offseason. The future is bright in the Big Apple.

New York Giants need to see offensive line improve after bye week

New York Giants, Matt Peart

The New York Giants made a shocking move today, firing offensive line coach Marc Colombo after only ten weeks with the team. According to reports, head coach Joe Judge made the decision to fire Colombo after a verbal altercation that saw Colombo insubordinate the team’s head coach. Now, Dave DeGuglielmo will serve as the team’s offensive line coach.

The Giants’ offensive line has struggled immensely in 2020. But, over the past few weeks, there has been some improvement. According to reports, this is correlated to the fact that Joe Judge has spent more time coaching the offensive line himself.

New York’s offensive line is a point of weakness. Judge and DeGuglielmo now have a whole bye week to work together and try to fix the offensive line’s issues. As the Giants make a late-season playoff push, it is crucial that the offensive line improves after the bye week to keep the Giants in the hunt.

New York Giants Offensive Line Stats

Despite investing a hefty amount of assets into the offensive line this offseason, the Giants’ front unit has not looked improved this year. Granted, there have been slight week-to-week improvements from individual linemen, but overall it has been a struggle for this positional group.

According to Pro Football Focus, through ten games, the Giants are last in pass-block grade (47.2) and 29th in run-block grade (56.9). PFF also states that quarterback Daniel Jones has been pressured on 42.9% of dropbacks this season (second among qualifying quarterbacks). Over the last four games, Jones has been pressured on 41.1% of his dropbacks (tied-fourth most).

New York’s second-year quarterback has been under constant duress this season. When kept clean, Jones has been surgical. In Sunday’s victory over Philadelphia, Jones was 18-18 from a clean pocket for 188 yards and a PFF passing grade of 93.1.

But keeping Jones’s pocket clean has been a struggle for the Giants. Rookie first-round draft pick Andrew Thomas leads all offensive tackles in the NFL in pressures allowed. He has struggled to find his footing in the NFL and has even been outplayed by third-round rookie Matt Peart in his smaller sample size.

The New York Giants found their formula for winning against Washington and Philadelphia the past two weeks. Essentially, the offensive line has to give Daniel Jones time to make plays. When Jones has a clean pocket he can make plays and keep the ball out of harm’s way. This is why fixing the offensive line should be the top priority for the Giants to close out the final seven weeks of the 2020 NFL season, as they push to make their first playoff appearance since 2016.

Should the New York Giants roll with a young offensive line for the rest of the season?

New York Giants, Matt Peart

The New York Giants‘ offensive line has struggled immensely through the first seven weeks of the 2020 NFL season. Despite this, their best lineman Kevin Zeitler has been brought up in trade discussions. Zeitler is a nine-year NFL veteran that has performed as the Giants’ best offensive lineman over the past two seasons.

Trading away Kevin Zeitler would leave the Giants with yet another huge hole in their offensive line. That hole would be filled by another rookie, Shane Lemieux, out of Oregon. This would place the Giants with two rookies starting on their offensive line, the other being left tackle Andrew Thomas. Nick Gates is also a rookie at the center position, playing this position for the first time in his career.

But should the Giants take things one step further and get as young as possible on the offensive line? New York has three rookies it could start on their offensive line: Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, and Matt Peart. Combining these three rookies with second-year Nick Gates and third-year Will Hernandez would give the Giants an insanely young offensive line.

Why the Giants’ young offensive line could be a good idea

The Giants’ offensive line is bad as it is. Could it really get that much worse? It seems like it could only get better at this point as New York’s front line has allowed Jones to be sacked 20 times through seven games. Considering this, maybe the Giants’ rookies could step in and outperform the struggling veterans.

Additionally, the Giants need answers on these rookie offensive linemen. Are they long-term solutions? The only way to find out is if these rookies get significant game-experience for the final stretch of this season. Allowing these rookies to start on the offensive line would give New York eight weeks of film to evaluate their linemen heading into the 2021 offseason.

The Giants might need to invest further into their offensive line during the 2021 NFL Draft. But if these rookies can prove themselves as legitimate starters, then New York will be able to invest their assets elsewhere.

Will Hernandez will be out in Week 8 as he tested positive this week for COVID-19. This should give rookie Shane Lemieux a chance to start this week. If Lemieux performs well, it could entice the Giants to complete a Kevin Zeitler trade. If New York does that, they should take the extra step and insert Matt Peart into the starting lineup in place of Cam Fleming. This would give the Giants’ rookies eight weeks to prove themselves before the 2021 offseason.

New York Giants: One offensive lineman is quickly gaining steam among bad performances

New York Giants, Nick Gates

The New York Giants have a long way to go before they feel confident with their offensive line, but they are quickly making steps in the right direction at one position. I’ll give you a hint, it is not left tackle or right tackle. In fact, it is Nick Gates at center, an experiment that has seen positive results in recent weeks.

Gates started off his 2020 season with tumultuous performances, earning a 54.4 overall grade against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He went only down from there, all the way to 42.6 against the Dallas Cowboys, but a switch flipped and him, and since then, he has only gotten significantly better.

According to PFF, against strong Washington and Philadelphia defensive fronts, Gates saw his numbers boost by 20 points.

Against the Eagles, Gates had his best pass blocking game of the season, finishing with an 84.1 grade and not allowing a single pressure on 39 pass-blocking attempts. Against the run, he needs a bit more work, especially when it comes to disengaging his first level block and moving to the second level to pick up linebackers.

Check out the clip below, which shows Gates paves a massive hole for running back Devonta Freeman, but he fails to get to the second level and stop the linebacker, limiting Freeman’s run.

The New York Giants are seeing progress with Gates:

These minor adjustments and play recognition comes with action, and Gates is doing a stellar job making progress early on in his career at center. Having played right guard and tackle in the past, this is his first season at the new position, so we can expect hiccups along the way.

Pass protection has been his bread and butter the past two weeks, and against the Eagles, he showed why he is undoubtedly the future in the middle of the line for the Giants.

They can feel confident with at least one position, despite the rest of the line under-performing. He could use a bit more development in his run blocking, but his recognition of stunts in pass pro has been fantastic.

Check out the clip below to see how well he picks up a delayed stunt against the Eagles, who are notoriously good at executing these.

Overall, we should be excited about his progression at center, but that doesn’t mean the Giants are anywhere close to having a strong offensive line.

Rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas has been problematic at best, failing to connect his feet and hands and struggling with timing issues, as OL coach Mark Colombo hinted at this week. Until Thomas can improve his run blocking and left guard will Hernandez plays with the zeal we know he has, the line is going to be a weakness.

New York Giants: Offensive line motivated to improve against Rams in Week Three

New York Giants, Nick Gates

The New York Giants have been arguably the weakest unit on the team through its disappointing 0-3 start. After investing a fair amount of assets into the offensive line this offseason and acquiring one of the best positional coaches in the sport to guide them, the Giants’ offensive line appears to have somehow gotten worse in 2020.

Quarterback Daniel Jones has been under pressure on 41.5% of his dropbacks in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus. This is the third-highest rate in the NFL. PFF Also states that the Giants’ offensive line has recorded a 46.3 pass-block grade through three weeks, ranking dead last in the league.

The members of the Giants’ front line are not oblivious to their poor performances. According to starting center Nick Gates, the Giants’ offensive line is “pissed off.”

Nick Gates Quotes

The New York Giants’ offensive line has gone up against some of the best defensive lines in the NFL to start the season. The Steelers and Bears were fully healthy and had All-Pro pass-rushers line up against the Giants’ weak offensive line. The 49ers’ defense was injured, but well-coached with a few impact players that gave the Giants plenty of trouble.

Entering Week Four, the Giants are set to face off against another great defense featuring one of the game’s greatest players: Aaron Donald. When asked about this matchup, Nick Gates called the matchup “exciting,” and saying Donald “will be the best player” Gates has “ever gone up against.”

Nick Gates admits that these first three weeks have been “frustrating” and the team is “pissed off.” But he also recognizes that the team has to “focus on the Rams” and move on “to the next game.” This falls in line with Joe Judge’s quotes.

Marc Colombo Quotes

Offensive line coach Marc Colombo also spoke with the media as his unit continues to struggle. Colombo is aware that his line is frustrated, saying, “I love that they’re pissed off. That’s the type of group we want.”

As frustrated as Colombo and his unit are, they are also aware that they have been dealt a pretty bad hand in 2020. With the craziness of the COVID offseason, Colombo reminds the media that the Giants’ offensive line is “thousands and thousands of reps behind.” Continuity has also been a problem for the Giants. But Colombo is not here to make excuses. Instead, he is here to find solutions:

“We’ve gotta do better in the run, period. That’s where we’re falling short right now. It’s going to alleviate a lot of stuff in the passing game. That’s something we have to do.” – Marc Colombo on his offensive line’s play through three weeks of the 2020 NFL season

Clearly, the Giants’ offensive line and coaches are frustrated. They need to play and coach better and they are all aware of that fact. If New York wants to turn around its season, the offensive line will need to improve quickly and drastically.

Joe Judge: Nick Gates Will Start at Center For Giants

New York Giants, Nick Gates

The New York Giants’ offensive line have been preparing for their 2020 season opener against Pittsburgh Steelers this Monday night at MetLife Stadium with four of the five starting spots spoken for. All that we’ve been waiting for is the team to name a starting center.

The wait is over.

“We’re going to start Nick Gates at center. He’s done a good job for us through camp,” head coach Joe Judge told reporters on Saturday. “Spencer’s (Pulley) done a tremendous job competing. We’re very happy with both of those guys on the roster. We’re very fortunate to have both guys working at the center position. Nick brings a lot of flexibility to other positions, but that’s the direction we’re going to go for right now.”

It seemed all summer long that the Giants preferred Gates, a 6-foot-5, 307-pound, third-year pro out of Nebraska who has never played the position, over Pulley, who finished th 2019 season as the Giants’ starting center.

Gates has been described by offensive line coach Marc Columbo as an “alpha male” and it was apparent the team wanted him to beat Pulley out for the job despite having no high-level experience at the position. Gates will have his hands full on Monday when the Giants face the Steelers’ front seven, which led the NFL in sacks (54) in 2019.

Another new piece on the offensive line is this year’s first round pick, Andrew Thomas, who earned his role as the starting left tackle after veteran Nate Solder opted out of the season. Judge was asked about his confidence level in Thomas against the Steelers’ pass rush.

“Again, we’re confident in all of our players,” Judge said. “We’re going to put them in a position, we coach them hard, we’re very demanding. Those guys go through a tough regimen on a weekly basis with Marc (Colombo) and Ben (Wilkerson) and being a part of that offensive line. We have a lot of confidence in all of our players. That being said, this is a great challenge for our entire team. The offensive line has a great challenge ahead of them with Pittsburgh’s front. They’re very talented, they’re capable of having very disruptive plays, which gives opportunities to the backend for turnovers as well. All of our guys have to really come in and have 60 minutes of good football. We have to play disciplined and we have to always go ahead and be committed to the process of playing, and making adjustments throughout the game.”

Fans are waiting to see if this new line is any better than the previous versions which sent Eli Manning into retirement and turned Daniel Jones into a turnover machine.

Height Could Give Nick Gates Inside Track at Giants’ Center Job

New York Giants, Nick Gates

Offensive lineman Nick Gates is currently snapping the football with the New York Giants’ first team at practice, splitting time with Spencer Pulley in a competition head coach Joe Judge rated as “scratch even” last week.

The fact is, the 6’5″, 312-pound Gates, who has played both guard and tackle for the Giants in his short career, is apparently the right size for the job.

Gates is slightly taller than Pulley (6’4″, 306) and last year’s starter, Jon Halapio (6’4″, 315), who incidentally was at the Giants’ camp on Monday for a tryout. Halapio started 15 games  but had surgery to repair a torn Achilles after season. He was not offered a contract this summer.

“We like big centers,” offensive line coach Marc Colombo said. “I worked with Travis Frederick in Dallas and he’s a big center (6-4, 320). Big, athletic, strong. We’re looking for centers that can anchor the middle. One of the biggest things is getting depth right off the bat at center, just so he can kind of be the ultimate helper in there. It’s working his set. It’s working the depth of his sets, it’s working the calls, the line stunts, that type of stuff. He just has to see it all.”

Gates started last Saturday’s Blue-White scrimmage with Pulley, who was banged up, watching from the sidelines. Judge liked what he saw.

“I thought Nick Gates did a good job in the middle, commanding the calls and getting everyone on the same page,” Judge said. “I thought he played with a lot of toughness the other night.”

The cohesion won’t happen overnight, though. Gates has the luxury of knowing the two players around him (guards Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler), having been their teammates the past few seasons.

“It takes time,” Gates said on Monday. “We didn’t get OTA’s together, which doesn’t hurt us but that time helps gets the kinks and little things out of the way then so when you come to training camp you know the offense, you know the technique and you know how each person plays. It helps during that. I think we’re doing a good job playing off each other. Me, Will and Zeitler have been together with each other for the last two years, I think. We kind of understand each other on the inside.”

Gates, who singed with the Giants after going undrafted out of Nebraska in 2018, showed enough versatility in his first two seasons for the Giants to extend him with a two-year, $6,825,000 contract extension this spring. He is playing center for the first time in the NFL and he enjoys being the main cog on the line.

“It’s the first time I have been in charge of the line, it’s nice,” Gates said. “It’s a lot more responsibility mentally. It’s something I am getting used to.”

“Nick’s done a really good job with that,” Colombo said. “We need to keep pushing him, keep showing him everything so it’s not the first time he sees it when we’re out there playing a real game.”

 

 

 

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: Recapping Today’s Practice 8/25

New York Giants, Austin Mack, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants had another late practice session tonight, wrapping up well after seven p.m. Practice was halted for a while too, as lightning was striking in the surrounding area. Because of this, media coverage was limited, but they were able to drop some tidbits on today’s practice session.

Injury update

Darius Slayton returned to practice today. Jabrill Peppers and Shane Lemieux also participated after leaving practice early on Thursday.

Ryan Connelly, Nate Ebner, Spencer Pulley, and Eli Penny did not participate in practice today. They all worked on the side with the training staff (via Art Stapleton).

Highlights

There was finally a fight at Giants practice today. Lorenzo Carter and Evan Engram got into a scrum. Engram’s helmet was thrown off his head. Head coach Joe Judge determined that Carter was in the wrong, so he sent him for a lap.

Later on, Sterling Shepard scored a nice touchdown reception with James Bradberry in coverage. Shepard celebrated to get back at the defense, jumping into the arms of Nick Gates. Later on, Shepard dropped a potential touchdown pass in a two-minute drill, and the defense got after him for that.

Giants’ practice is intensifying as we inch closer to the regular season. With no preseason due COVID-19, Joe Judge is making sure to work his players hard to prepare for the season. Judge even said today that the team is considering having Daniel Jones take off his no-hitting red jersey to get him acclimated to the hits of football (via Matt Lombardo).

The Giants wrapped up another intense practice today, as Joe Judge continues to set the tone for his new team. With less than three weeks left until the Giants’ first regular-season game, do not expect to see the Giants take their foot off the pedal anytime soon.