The New York Giants schedule doesn’t get any easier in week two against the Chicago Bears, as they face off against Khalil Mack on the defensive front and wide receiver Allen Robinson on offense. The Giants have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, with elite defenses and individual players stacking up against them.
In week one against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Giants endured their fair share of struggles. Including a losing battle against Pittsburgh’s defensive line, the offensive line was thrashed consistently. Their run blocking was virtually nonexistent, and their pass-pro allowed 26 total pressures on Daniel Jones. Jones lead the NFL in pressures in week one, indicating an extremely poor performance from his protection. Success on offense starts up front, and while the Giants do have the talent to have a competitive unit, they didn’t show it in their first week together.
Third-year guard Will Hernandez had a tough time in the trenches against some of the best interior defenders in the NFL. He understands that their performances were unacceptable, and improvement is a necessity against Chicago.
“Anybody who put that on tape deserves to be called out,” Hernandez said, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “We definitely learned from it. We had an attitude of, we’re going to practice hard, and we’re going to show it the next opportunity we get.”
When asked about their preparation for Chicago and the challenge ahead, Hernandez stated:
“Bring it on.”
“Give us the best,” Hernandez said. “We want to be challenged. We didn’t come out here to pick and choose our teams. We want to play the best guys, go out there, match up and kill it as an offensive line all together. We’re not ducking anybody. We’re not watching who we’re playing this week and not next week.”
The New York Giants are prepared:
There’s one thing we can rule out about Hernandez and his teammates; they don’t lack confidence. New head coach Joe Judge wants to face off against the best because that is ultimately how you become the best.
Attacking their opponents head-on and “punching them in the nose for 60 minutes” is the recipe to success, but as a new unit with 13 new starters across both sides of the ball, it was always going to be a tumultuous start for Big Blue. Hopefully, they can see drastic improvements against the Bears.
Anyone who watched the New York Giants fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Monday night, had to come away with the fact that the Giants’ offensive line is still a work in progress.
That’s putting it kindly. Head coach Joe Judge tore into the group this week after the Giants could only gain 29 yards on the ground (22 of which came on scrambles by quarterback Daniel Jones) and allowed eight hits and three sacks on Jones.
Guard Will Hernandez, who is coming off a trying season after an impressive rookie year in 2018, says the line is moving forward and planning on getting better every week.
“Anybody who put that on tape deserves to be called out,” Hernandez told reporters on Friday. “We definitely learned from it. We had an attitude of we’re going to practice hard and we’re going to show it the next opportunity we get, which is this Sunday.”
The starting line had only two starters from last year, Hernandez at left guard and right guard Kevin Zeitler. Andrew Thomas, the team’s top draft pick this year, started at left tackle and free agent addition Cam Fleming started on the right side. Many felt part of the problem was communication, which is largely the responsibility of the center. The Giants are operating this season with Nick Gates at center. Gates, swing tackle and plug-in guard, had never snapped the football in a live NFL game before Monday night.
Hernandez downplayed the communication angle. He believes they will get it straightened out over time.
“We’ve got five guys on the offensive line that all are capable, all are willing to make the calls and have the calls down,” he said. “Everybody has it down. It’s just a matter of coming out, going out and doing your job. Everybody doing it, not only doing your job but doing it at a high level. That’s something that we all need to step up for sure, including myself, starting with me. Go out there and just be in sync.”
The former second round pick out of UTEP isn’t angling for perfection , just consistency.
“Any time you come out, there’s always going to be good and bad and good. I think that it can always get more consistent. I’m talking about for me and everybody on the team specifically. Everybody can get better at something. The perfect game doesn’t exist, so the answer to that is yes, it can definitely be more consistent.”
As for Gates, the team still has confidence in him even though they have an experienced center in Spencer Pulley standing in the sidelines.
“Nick’s awesome, man” said Hernandez. “Talk about somebody that can do it all from tackle to guard to center. He’s definitely a guy that was put in there for a reason. He’s not there to see if he can do it, but because he can do it, he’s there. He definitely knows how to direct a huddle. Helps us out, helps the tackles out. He definitely takes charge. He handles the huddle and the play calling very well.”
The New York Giants focused on improving their offensive line this offseason with only a few familiar faces still in place, one of them being guard Will Hernandez. Hernandez has started 16 games at left guard in each of his two seasons in the NFL and is the projected starter for the Giants at said position in 2020.
Hernandez envisions the Giants offensive line playing a “big role” in their success this season (quotes per Giants.com’s Dan Salomone).
“The offensive line has a big, big role in our success. We’ll proudly carry the workload and get things done.”
“There’s a new attitude for everything.”
The Giants selected Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas with the fourth pick and UConn tackle Matt Peart with the 99th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. They also selected Oregon guard Shane Lemieux at 150. In free agency they signed former Dallas Cowboys tackle Cam Fleming.
Two weeks ago veteran tackle Nate Solder, a presumed starter at either left or right tackle, opted out of the 2020 NFL season, vacating a starting position. They also have an uncertain center situation with 2019 starter Jon Halapio on the open market.
A prime candidate to fill Solder’s shoes is Nick Gates, who signed a two-year extension with the Giants last week.
Hernandez thinks Gates can play “any spot” up front.
“I think Nick Gates could play any spot on the offensive line.”
The Giants signed Gates as an undrafted free agent in 2018, but he missed the season due to a foot injury. Last season he appeared in 16 games for the Giants, starting three games and making appearances at right tackle and right guard.
The New York Giants have consistently had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL for years. In recency, the team has put an emphasis on rebuilding the trenches. That all began in 2018. That offseason, the Giants signed offensive tackle Nate Solder. While that move has not proven to be the best, it was still the first shift towards rebuilding the offensive line.
Later that offseason, the Giants landed another key offensive lineman. In the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Giants selected offensive guard Will Hernandez out of UTEP. Over the past two years, Hernandez has showed promise, but he has struggled to develop into the player he was expected to be.
Will Hernandez’s Promising Rookie Season
Will Hernandez had a promising rookie season. Many believed Hernandez would be off the board in round one, but the Giants were lucky enough to land him in the second. He definitely looked like a first-round prospect as a rookie.
According to Pro Football Focus, Will Hernandez, in 2018, ended eight of his 16 games with a pass-blocking grade over 70.0, and he allowed just 29 pressures from 664 pass-blocking snaps on the year. On 1,027 offensive snaps in 2018, Hernandez committed only two penalties, an impressive feat as a rookie.
A Shaky Sophomore Season
Also according to Pro Football Focus, Will Hernandez was actually a pretty good pass-blocker in 2019. But he struggled immensely as a run-blocker. His PFF pass-blocking grade was a 72.5, while his run-blocking grade was a 45.7. His overall grade was 58.4 as the second-year player out of UTEP played 1068 snaps in 2019.
Hernandez allowed only 2 sacks in 2019 on 728 pass-blocking snaps. That is down from the 5 sacks he allowed in 2018, but his overall grading was much better in his rookie season. As a rookie, Hernandez was still better as a pass-blocker than he was as a run-blocker. His pass-blocking grade in 2018 was 73.1 while his run-blocking grade was 62.9. Overall, his grade was 67.9.
Will Hernandez was not a liability on the Giants’ offensive line last year and he was far from the biggest problem on the line. Much of his struggles could be attributed to his surroundings. Hernandez was sandwiched between an offensive tackle (Nate Solder) that allowed 56 pressures and a center that struggled the entire season.
The Giants have seemingly upgraded at both left tackle and center entering 2020. This could allow Will Hernandez to return to his 2018 form and maybe even surpass that rookie performance. Additionally, the Giants have a new, talented offensive line coach to help Will Hernandez Develop. Marc Colombo did wonders with the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line while he was there, and he will likely help the Giants’ offensive line improve in 2020.
The New York Giants have had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL over the past few years. The team has struggled to find consistent offensive tackle play since investing a top-ten pick in Ereck Flowers in 2015. From Flowers to Solder, the Giants have been disappointed by their recent expensive offensive line investments.
New York is hoping that that trend of disappointing offensive line investments ends after this season. This offseason, the Giants invested heavily in their offensive line, drafting three linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Giants also signed an offensive tackle in free agency and significantly upgraded their offensive line coach.
Giants fans are hopeful about their offensive line for the first time in a while. Andrew Thomas was drafted fourth overall, signaling a cultural shift by the Giants towards a more traditional team-building philosophy. The Giants are prioritizing the offensive line and finally, for the first time in years, have depth in the positional group.
Projecting the 2020 Offensive Line
LT – Andrew Thomas
LG – Will Hernandez
C – Nick Gates
RG – Kevin Zeitler
RT – Nate Solder
Depth – Spencer Pulley, Shane Lemieux, Cameron Fleming, and Matt Peart
Nate Solder allowed 11 sacks in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus, the third most out of any offensive tackle in the NFL. To make matters even worse, Solder allowed 57 pressures in 2019. This was the most of any offensive lineman in the NFL. Andrew Thomas played 1,075 pass-block snaps in his collegiate career. On those snaps, Thomas allowed only 37 total pressures. He also has not allowed more than 2 pressures in a game since 2017 (his freshman season at right tackle). It is highly possible that Andrew Thomas is the best left tackle on the Giants’ roster despite never playing a snap in the NFL.
Will Hernandez is entering his third NFL season after taking a small step back in 2019. Big Will looked promising as a rookie but struggled to develop as a sophomore. This could have been for a couple of reasons: Hernandez was playing between two bad players, and the Giants’ coaching staff was one of the league’s worst. Luckily for Hernandez, both of these problems seem to have been fixed. This could be his breakout season.
The center position is by far the biggest question mark on the Giants’ roster in 2020. There will be a positional battle at center during training camp and preseason. In my opinion, Nick Gates is the top candidate for the position. Gates finished the 2019 season with a 77.0 overall grade and only 1 sack allowed in 290 snaps (Pro Football Focus). However, Spencer Pulley could win the job based on seniority and past experience. Gates has never played center before but has been impressive in limited snaps at offensive guard and offensive tackle.
Despite never making the Pro Bowl in his career, Kevin Zeitler has been one of the best pass-blocking offensive guards in the NFL. Also according to Pro Football Focus, Zeitler finished with the sixth-best grade among guards and posted a strong 75.0 pass-blocking grade — the sixth-straight year he’s achieved that mark. Zeitler is a lock for the Giants’ right guard position and should get a contract extension after his contract expires next offseason.
Nate Solder is likely to move over to right tackle, but if that does not go well, the Giants have solid depth pieces behind him. New York signed Cam Fleming this offseason to be a swing tackle or backup offensive tackle. They also drafted Matt Peart out of UConn in the third round. Peart is not likely to be ready for NFL action in his first season, but he has a lot of potential down the road as a starting offensive tackle.
An Improved Coaching Staff
The hiring of Marc Colombo was huge for the Giants. Colombo has helped maintain the Dallas Cowboy’s offensive line’s status as one of the best in the NFL. Cowboys players have stated that Colombo’s relatability in his youth helped the offensive line grow and gravitate towards its coach.
“I’ve had the pleasure of being around a lot of people in this game. But Marc is in the front of the class. That’s the ultimate compliment I can give him. You get inspired by Marc every day you’re around him.” – Jason Garrett on Mar Colombo via ESPN
The New York Giants are heading into the 2020 season with plenty of questions on the roster. Both sides of the ball are undergoing major changes, but the offense is a bit more situated and the defense.
With a reliable receiving corps consisting of Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Corey Coleman, quarterback Daniel Jones has plenty of weapons to utilize. That’s not even factoring Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram. The offensive line is the biggest concern, as they lacked chemistry and efficiency in 2019.
That reality was a driving force behind the drafting of Andrew Thomas with the fourth overall pick this year. The hope is that he can supplement a tackle position and help build continuity in the trenches.
However, the Giants need some of their younger players to make development leaps.
Here is a look at two New York Giants players who should experience improvement moving forward:
1.) Darius Slayton
Slayton was a wonder for the Giants in his rookie campaign. He posted 740 yards and eight touchdowns over 14 games, leading the team in both categories. While his 57.1% catch rate was a bit low, rookie struggles were anticipated and factored into my expectations. He played in just 66% of offensive snaps and missed two games to start the season.
Slayton’s emergence is a fantastic sign for the Giants who drafted him in the fifth round last year. At just 23 years old, he is not even in his prime yet and has so much potential left to discover.
The biggest sign of improvement was his route running development. From being primarily a straight line receiver with Auburn, he became much more than that in the NFL. Just a few months on an NFL team allowed him to refine and build upon his existing routes. He added a solid slant and corner route to his repertoire. There’s plenty left for him to develop, especially when it comes to timing with Daniel Jones.
If you ask any New York Giants fan, they will tell you that their team had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season. In 2019, the Giants’ quarterbacks were sacked 43 times. However, Pro Football Focus disagrees.
According to PFF, “the Giants weren’t as bad as the perception last season.” The Giants’ offensive line finished 17th in PFF’s regular-season rankings for 2019, which is about average. Now, heading into the 2020 NFL season, Pro Football Focus has ranked the NFL’s offensive lines once again. This year, the Giants rank 20th out of the 32 NFL teams.
Is 20 Too High or Too Low?
The New York Giants did invest a lot into their offensive line this offseason. Dave Gettleman and company spent the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. PFF had Thomas as the highest-ranked offensive tackle on their draft board. Andrew Thomas played 1,075 pass-block snaps in his collegiate career. On those snaps, Thomas allowed only 37 total pressures. He also has not allowed more than 2 pressures in a game since 2017 (his freshman season at right tackle).
Andrew Thomas is a significant improvement for the Giants at left tackle. Nate Solder, the man who has played that position for the last two years, had a career-worst season in 2019. Solder allowed a league-high 56 pressures and 11 sacks last season while also ranking just 70th out of 89 qualifiers with a 52.9 run-blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus.
It is surprising that the Giants’ offensive line ranked 17th in PFF’s 2019 rankings despite Nate Solder and Mike Remmers allowing a combined 96 pressures. However, there was a solid performance on the team’s front line that might have boosted the ranking. Right guard Kevin Zeitler continued to be a consistent, reliable offensive lineman. Zeitler earned a 76.4 overall grade ranked seventh of all offensive guards.
The Giants’ other offensive guard, though, did not perform as well. Will Hernandez regressed in 2019 after a promising rookie season in 2018. However, PFF did mention Big-Will as a potential breakout candidate entering his third season.
The center position is arguably the biggest question mark on the Giants’ roster right now. Jon Halapio struggled at that position last season and held the team back significantly. Now, entering 2020, there is a position battle brewing. Spencer Pulley, Nick Gates, and rookie Shane Lemieux will all be competing to earn the starting center job. An improvement at that position could be what puts an end to the Giants’ offensive line struggles.
The Giants have made improvements to their offensive tackle positions and there are reasons to expect a solid outing from the offensive guards in 2020. It is fair for PFF to rank the team’s line at 20th overall at this point, but if there is an improvement at the center position, the Giants could rise through the rankings.
On paper, the New York Giants have a much-improved roster on both sides of the ball, but there will be weaknesses they have to iron out and refine as the season goes on. A rebuild takes time, and the Giants are currently in the middle of one.
General manager Dave Gettleman made it a priority to fix the offensive line once and for all, but nothing is set in stone despite spending the fourth overall pick on Andrew Thomas. Nate Solder, who played left tackle for the Giants in 2019, struggled immensely, allowing 11 sacks, which ranked third-worst in the NFL. Improving this unit is essential, but there is one player that could explode in 2020 with new talent around him.
The New York Giants are expecting big things from Will Hernandez:
Left guard Will Hernandez is the player I’m referencing. He is going into the third year on his rookie deal, and it is fair to say that Hernández had a sophomore slump in 2019. The cohesion in the trenches is extremely important in protecting the quarterback and opening running lanes for Saquon Barkley. The unit last year ranked in the below-average category, failing to block at a high-level and pick up stunts efficiently consistently.
Hernandez wasn’t given any help, as Solder struggled the entire season and center Jon Halapio gave up the fifth-most pressures out of all centers and ranked 36th and run-blocking, per PFF. Due to the inadequacies around him, Hernandez ranked 33rd in pass blocking and 117th as a run blocker last season. His rookie campaign was much better, but the expectations weighing on his shoulders last year got the best of him.
Despite his deficiencies, Hernandez has the strength and speed to pull in the run-game and hunker down in the pass-game. He is a tough lineman with a mean streak, exactly what Gettleman is looking for his players.
Aside from a lack of talent, the Giants’ offensive line was out-schemed frequently by opposing defensive coordinators. Delayed blitzes and a variety of unpredictable sets put Jones under pressure quickly and collapsed running lanes before they even developed.
Regarding Hernandez, there’s a ton to like, as a strength and mobility stand out. He plays with solid leverage, and he’s decent in the mental game. There’s always room for improvement, and Hernandez will be working this off-season to refine his fundamentals and adapt to the new offensive scheme laid out by Jason Garrett. New offensive line coach Marc Colombo will have a great time with Hernandez, as he contains all of the intangible traits the former Cowboy did when featured as a player.
I believe he can be a staple on the line for many years to come, and 2020 should give us a good idea of what he’s capable of.
The New York Giants‘ offensive line is the team’s kryptonite; it has been for the last five years. Finally, the Giants made improvements to the offensive line through the draft and free agency. As a fan, this makes me very happy, protecting Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley is the primary concern. All fans want to see these guys play for eight-plus years. There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed this offseason. Who will start at left tackle? Nate Solder, or Andrew Thomas? Who will win the starting center job, Spencer Pulley, Nick Gates, or Shane Lemieux?
I think the end of the preseason will answer all these questions. Joe Judge and the coaching staff want the best man to win the starting job. All these players are going to get a fair shot, and it will come down to who wants it more and who excels at their position.
“The best players will play. I don’t care where you got drafted, I don’t care if you’re an undrafted free agent, I don’t care if you’re old, young, traded, whatever you got there for. Everybody will have an opportunity every day to compete for a job on our roster. Every day. If you want to be on the field, be the best player. Outwork the guy in front of you. Prove your value to us, show you can handle the job, and we’re going to put you on the field and give you an opportunity.”
Andrew Thomas starting left tackle
Andrew Thomas is going to be the starting left tackle week one. He is the best option and has all the skills to play at the pro level. The Giants drafted him to fix their blind side problem and protect second-year quarterback, Daniel Jones. As we all saw, Nate Solder was not at his best last season. I still think Solder will be apart of the offensive line, just at another spot. In 2019, Andrew Thomas was a Walter Camp All-American first team, and winner of the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy, this was Georgia’s first recipient in 21 years!
There’s no question Thomas has the athleticism and skill set to become an All-Pro lineman; having a great offensive line coach is also huge for his development. There is no reason to move Thomas to right tackle, he played both in college but excelled at Left. Coming into the draft, Andrew Thomas was the purest left tackle; the Giants made the right decision with their fourth overall pick.
Will Hernandez starting left guard
Will Hernandez has been a reliable option since he was drafted back in 2018. Since drafted, Hernandez has started in every game (32), talk about a reliable offensive lineman! In 2019, Hernandez’s number of penalties went up (4), more than his rookie year (2). This is something that can be worked on and is not that big of a deal. He played 1067 snaps in 2019, and 1027 snaps his rookie season. The Giants’ offensive line needs a gritty guy like Hernandez, who will do all the dirty work in the trenches.
Spencer Pulley starting center
The New York Giants will have a competition battle at center. For starters, I believe Jon Halapio will be cut from the team; he has sustained too many season-ending injuries. I think the Giants have better options at center, Pulley, Gates, and Lemieux will all battle it out. I feel Spencer Pulley is going to win the starting job. He already has experience playing center, it is his primary position, unlike Gates and Lemieux. In 2019, Pulley only played in four games, he only recorded one penalty and was on the field for 95 snaps. If Pulley happens to get injured and can’t play for the remainder of the season, I want the Giants to give Shane Lemieux a shot at center. Several clips have surfaced of Shane Lemieux practicing snaps during his workouts. I feel like Nick Gates is more of a guard and would rather stay there.
Kevin Zeitler starting right guard
There is no mystery behind this one, Kevin Zeitler will be the starting right guard in 2020. He battled shoulder issues in 2019. If he is healthy, we will see a very productive right guard. I see Zeitler being the leader on the offensive line, a veteran who has a lot of experience in the NFL (eight seasons). He will be a great mentor for the young guys who were just drafted. In 2019, Zeitler started 15 games, he only missed one due to a shoulder injury. In those 15 games, Zeitler averaged 93% of offensive snaps, and only had one penalty all year! All in all, the Giants need Zeitler to be the leader of the offensive line in 2020, I think he has a few more years left to play before Shane Lemieux takes his position.
Nick Gates starting right tackle
In 2020, there will be a battle to see who plays right tackle. Most people think Nate Solder is a starter next season. I think he will come off the bench and be a fill-in type player. I think Nick Gates is the better option right now until Nate Solder can prove he can still protect and be effective in the run game. I think Solder will be a great mentor for the other offensive lineman; the Giants can’t rely on him. The Giants can’t let him play left tackle and be responsible for protecting the blindside. Nick Gates only started three games in 2019, I think 2020 could be a different story, and he could be a starter week one. He did well last season, the Giants’ offensive line was awful, and Gates was the only bright spot some games.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced NFL players to work out in interesting ways, and the New York Giants are no exception to that reality. Left guard for Big Blue, Will Hernandez, took to the streets to increase his strength and power. Hernandez posted an Instagram story of him pushing a car and blasting Katy Perry on the radio.
Hernandez was a second-round draft pick in 2018 in Dave Gettleman’s first year with the Giants. While he did regress a bit in 2019, primarily due to inadequate performance is on his left and right side, he still only allowed two sacks and four penalties, which both ranked 29th or better, according to PFF.
The drafting of Andrew Thomas out of Georgia should help Hernandez in pass protection and run blocking in 2020. With the expectation that a position battle will take place at center, Hernandez could have two new running mates beside him. Hopefully, that is a positive thing after Nate Solder had an atrocious 2019 campaign, allowing 11 sacks, ranking second-most in the league.
Some analysts believe Nick Gates will win the starting center position going forward, after portraying quality at both right tackle and right guard. While he’s never played on the interior, his frame could fit the position well, and being an undrafted free agent helps the Giants in their cap allocations towards the offensive line.
The new line, which consists of Andrew Thomas at left tackle, Will Hernandez at left guard, Nick Gates at center, Kevin Zeitler at right guard, and either Solder, Cam Fleming, or Matt Peart at right tackle, should see an improvement.
This would certainly represent a different unit for Daniel Jones in his second season in the NFL. However, the Giants hired Jason Garrett and former Dallas offensive line coach, Marc Colombo, who has the pedigree to install a dominant unit.