Q&A: Guard Matt Lentz

Matt Lentz was placed on Injured Reserve in early September 2006 with an elbow injury. He was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2006 NFL Draft. Lentz was two-time All-Big Ten first team (2004-2005) and started 36 college games at right guard. Lentz played a lot during the 2006 preseason for the Giants and improved noticeably.

BBI: You were placed on Injured Reserve before the season started with an elbow injury. How is the elbow? Is it affecting your ability to participate in the offseason strength and conditioning program?

Matt: My elbow is feeling great right now. I’m back working out with weights that I should be. It’s a time to get stronger.

BBI: After you were placed on Injured Reserve, you were not allowed to practice with the team. Were you allowed to do anything (i.e., spend time with the coaches) during the season that you think will enable you to become a better football player in 2007? If so, what?

Matt: The majority of my time I spent rehabbing my elbow and trying to keep in shape. Once I was able to start lifting more I began to spend more time in the weight room with the strength coach. To keep up with my football knowledge I would watch film of the games or of practice to keep up with the installation of plays. Granted this wasn’t one-on-one coaching but it did allow me to keep a football mentality.

BBI: Between now and the start of camp, players are involved in the offseason workout program, a veteran mini-camp, and other OTA days. Much of this is a mystery to fans. Other than the strength training and conditioning work, how much classroom and field work do you see before camp starts?

Matt: As far as classroom work goes, if you are out on the field for an hour you generally watch at least a half hour of film of that field work. During much of this time we are also installing plays, so then we would generally watch film on that play and study the diagrams of the play. So when all is said and done it seems that during this time we spend more time in meeting rooms learning the ins and outs of the offense. Of course, the field time that we missed is all made up during training camp.

BBI: Is it too early to give us a preview of how the offense this year might be different with Coach Gilbride calling the plays? If not, could you elaborate?

Matt: Unfortunately, it is too early to see the differences in the offense, at this time we have only been weight training and conditioning for two and half weeks.

BBI: You were two-time All-Big Ten and started 36 college games at right guard for one of the best college programs in the country. Were you surprised that you were not drafted? Why do you think you were not drafted? Does it encourage you that there are undrafted rookies on your own team that are a critical part of the Giants such Antonio Pierce and Rich Seubert?

Matt: To be honest I was surprised I wasn’t invited to the Combine. But, I never lost my head. I was looking for my shot to prove to someone what they were missing out on. As far as why I think I was not drafted, I believe it was because I sustained a knee injury in the second game of the season (torn MCL) and from then on it just got worse. Without the proper time to heal, I was just making the knee worse. There were games that I could hardly walk afterwards. Of course at the time I thought I was moving pretty fast, but when I analyzed myself at the end of the season through game tape I found that I was slower than I should have been. Its not an excuse, but it does make sense. I can’t fault teams for not drafting me, I was looking at the same film they were, but I knew I was better than that and all I needed was a chance to prove it and the Giants gave that chance.

BBI: Honestly, what made you sign with the Giants? Was it a signing bonus? Did your agent recommend the team? What encouraged you to come here?

Matt: Honestly, the Giants were the team that showed the most interest in me. Just briefly talking to the coaches I knew that this was the right place to be and after being in the program for almost a year I was right. It is a program based on toughness and running the ball so I feel right at home.

BBI: Have the coaches expressed to you any thoughts about where you will be battling for a roster spot? Right guard? Left guard? Possibly some center? If they have you practicing at both guard spots, can you compare the positions for us (i.e., is there more pulling from one position)?

Matt: Right now the coaches have just expressed to me that I should be able to play anywhere on the interior. I will tell you though that playing on the right side my whole life and switching to left is very hard. Your whole technique is opposite. It may seem like a simple transition, but its really not. The mechanics of what you are doing are the same, but you start with the opposite leg, arm, stance and direction. Even your stance needs to be changed, the most basic thing in football, doesn’t even feel natural. Luckily, I’ve had a whole season to work on my technique on both sides and it’s starting to feel just as natural coming out of a left handed stance as my right handed stance.

BBI: For the average fan who wants to have a better understanding of the game, is it possible to categorize the Giants’ offensive line scheme or style? How different is it from what you were used to at Michigan?

Matt: As far as a style I believe it’s just good ol’ fashion smash mouth football. Don’t get me wrong, the coaches aren’t going to have us butt our heads against brick walls, we will scheme to run the ball. As far as being different from Michigan, I don’t believe it is. As far as the plays go, it is ten times more complex, but the philosophy is the same, establish the run to establish toughness.

BBI: As a top college player and now a professional, what is the one thing you wish the average fan understood about football, or line play specifically? In other words, what is the one thing that drives you nuts when you hear it from a fan?

Matt: O-line play is all about technique. Every lineman (offense or defense) is strong, but what separates them is technique. There are so many things that contribute to a successful block. The first step in the block is crucial, if that isn’t right, chances are you are going to lose the block. Then there is head and hand placement that controls where the defender goes or where you don’t want him to go. There is also the fact that you have to drive your legs yet stay low. On top of this, you add in that all of these things change on every given play and where the defender is aligned. Its enough to make your head spin. We are in the trenches on every play of every drive, yet it seems that the only time our name is called is when there is a penalty or a sack. Don’t get me wrong, I love what we do, because to me where I play, is where the game is won or lost.

BBI: The Giants have two offensive line coaches ñ OL Coach Pat Flaherty and Assistant OL Coach Dave DeGuglielmo. Before Coach Coughlin arrived, the Giants only had one coach. How do their roles differ? Can you share any interesting thoughts on either?

Matt: Like I said in the previous question, line play is all about technique. There are roughly 10-12 linemen on a squad at any given time, so in order to drill the technique that is required it is good to have another hand. Each position across the line uses different technique also. As is true with anything, time is always waning, so in order for us to get good quality work in we are normally split up during our individual periods between right and left or guards and centers and tackles. From there we can work on just about anything pertaining to our position. We are able to get a lot more accomplished in this fashion.

BBI: You and Guy Whimper were rookie newcomers last year. Are you closer to him because of that or other linemen? What do you think of Guy’s ability?

Matt: It was natural to get closer to the other rookies last year because we were all going through the same thing. And a natural thing to do is to get closer to other guys at your position, which is exactly what I did. I spent most of the time with them on and off the field, because it is really like a band of brothers, we’re unique because we work side-by-side in close quarters, which is very hard with 300+ lb. guys. We joke and understand each other in a way that nobody else gets.

As far as Guy’s ability, he is a very talented athlete with good feet. That’s one thing you notice when we do drills is that he can move his feet to get in good position to make a block.

BBI: Who is the spiritual leader of the offensive line? Why?

Matt: Being that I’m going into my second year and am still considered a young guy, I look up to all the veteran guys. They all have their good qualities and different ways of leading. Each one of them is there to help the other person improve and most of all help the younger guys improve so they can contribute to winning a championship.

BBI: What do you think of Brandon Jacobs?

Matt: Brandon Jacobs is a very tough running back. In fact at times he seems like a light lineman with speed. He is a guy that loves to hit, the harder the hit the more jacked up he gets which in turn becomes contagious. Having him in the backfield encourages you to make your block, why? Because you don’t want him running into your back full speed. You also know that he is going to fight for every yard he can get.