With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Offensive Line
2022 YEAR IN REVIEW: The offensive line was not a disaster in 2022, but it did not play as well as expected or hoped for. While Andrew Thomas continued to develop, becoming one of the best left tackles in the game and earning second-team All-Pro Honors, there was a revolving door at left guard due to injuries, and inconsistent play at center, right guard, and right tackle.
Rookie offensive linemen often struggle, but more was expected from the 7th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Evan Neal, at right tackle. He missed a month with a knee injury and was seen favoring his left arm/shoulder in another game. Neal had issues in pass protection and was flagged with six false starts. He was replaced by Tyre Phillips for those four games. Phillips had issues in pass protection as well. Right guard Mark Glowinski was a bit too up-and-down for his 3-year, $18 million contract. The Giants also signed Jon Feliciano to a 1-year deal in March after he was cut by the Bills. They converted him to center, where he started 15 games. But he was also inconsistent.
The initial plan appeared to be to start Shane Lemieux at left guard, but he missed virtually the entire season with a toe injury that landed him on Injured Reserve twice. Ben Bredeson started the first seven games until a knee injury sidelined him for six games. Joshua Ezeudu started two games at left guard until he suffered a neck injury. Nick Gates then stunned everyone by returning to the starting line-up despite a career-threatening leg injury he suffered in 2021 that required seven surgeries. Including the playoffs, Gates started the last nine games at left guard.
Overall, this group did help the Giants become the NFL’s 4th-best rushing team, averaging 148 yards per game, more than the Eagles. On the other hand, the Giants allowed 49 sacks, which tied them for 5th-worst in the NFL. Daniel Jones was pressured on one-fourth of his drop backs, which was 4th worst in the NFL.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants re-signed Wyatt Davis and Jack Anderson as exclusive rights free agents. They also re-signed Practice Squad players Solomon Kindley, Devery Hamilton, and Korey Cunningham. (Kindley was waived in May).
However, both centers, Jon Feliciano and Nick Gates, somewhat surprisingly departed in free agency. Gates received a 3-year, $16.5 million contract from the Commanders and Feliciano a 1-year, $2.3 million contract from the 49ers.
The offseason additions were few, but one was significant, the drafting of center John Michael Schmitz in the 2nd round of the draft. The team also signed center J. C. Hassenauer from the Steelers. The team did not sign any rookie free agents after the draft at the position.
In short, the Giants stood pat at the position except at center where they exchanged Schmitz and Hassenauer for Gates and Feliciano.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Most of the attention will be on Evan Neal. Some have lowered their expectations on Neal, saying he just has to play at an average level. Teams don’t draft right tackles with the 7th overall pick in hopes they will just be average. Neal is likely to still experience growing pains, but he needs to drastically cut down both pass blocking mistakes and penalties while becoming a stud in the running game. The better Neal becomes, the easier it will be for this team to run and throw the football.
That all said, the same could be said for each of the starters in the interior of the line. The Giants need Glowinski to become a steadier player at right guard. If he doesn’t, it will be interesting to see if Marcus McKethan or one of the other back-ups presses him for playing time. Assuming that John Michael Schmitz will start at center, he will have his hands full in a division loaded with stud defensive tackles. Expect rookie growing pains. The left guard position still is unsettled. The leading candidates are Ben Bredeson and Joshua Ezeudu. I would not discount Shane Lemieux. The now injury-prone lineman was an ironman in college, and had he not been hurt the past two seasons, he would have been the starter at left guard under two different coaching staffs.
One of the unexpected developments this offseason is how much the team stood pat at the position. No new tackles or guards were added to the roster. This at least partially suggests the team was not down on many of the lesser known back-ups. Tyre Phillips (former 3rd round pick), Wyatt Davis (3rd round), Jack Anderson (7th round), Matt Peart (3rd round), Devery Hamilton (undrafted), and Korey Cunningham (7th round) also factor into the competition and someone could surprise.
ON THE BUBBLE: There are currently 15 offensive linemen on the 90-man roster. The Giants will likely keep nine on the 53-man roster. The locks are Andrew Thomas, Ben Bredeson, Josh Ezeudu, John Michael Schmitz, Mark Glowinski, and Evan Neal. That leaves nine players fighting for three spots. The leading candidate for the swing tackle is probably Tyre Phillips. Bredeson’s flexibility to play both guard and center helps the team if they feel another guard is better than Hassenauer at center. Marcus McKethan was impressing before he got hurt last summer.
FROM TEAM GENERAL MANAGER/COACHES/PLAYERS: General Manager Joe Schoen on the center position before the draft: “We knew Jon (Feliciano) was on a 1-year contract last year at this time. We didn’t know if Nick Gates was even going to be able to play football again. Heck, we didn’t know that until midway through the season. We had contingency plans in place. We claimed Jack Anderson. He was with us in Buffalo. He’s been working at center. Ben Bredeson is a guy who we are very comfortable with playing center. Shane Lemieux was playing it as well before the injury… We’ll be patient. We’ll continue to look. But we have confidence in Ben Bredeson, Jack Anderson, and Shane.”
Offensive Line Coach Bobby Johnson on why the Giants offensive line has struggled to form an identity in recent years: “You look at our line, before I got here and even now, it’s different. I’m like the sixth or seventh coach in the last five years. There have been just a line of (players) who have come through here. What we need to do is develop our identity… you need to continue to develop guys… the fans don’t know everything in house. Some of the guys we have on the roster they’ve never seen play. And so they assume they are not good enough, that’s why they haven’t played. Well that’s not necessarily the case… We only have three players that are older than 26 out of the 15. It’s a young room. There’s a lot of potential, a lot of room for growth. I see these guys getting better every day.”
Offensive Line Coach Bobby Johnson on Evan Neal: “Evan’s a worker. So I have no reason to believe (he won’t improve) with the work ethic put in, the attention to detail, and pushing to be a really good player. We’ll see better results… Now it’s not new to him.”
Offensive Line Coach Bobby Johnson on Josh Ezeudu: “He’s rehabbed very well from the injury, he’s another year in the system, he’s got confidence in what we’re doing. Some things we decided to work on from a technique standpoint he’s really worked hard at. I’m seeing good results. I expect to see even more when we get to training camp.”
Offensive Line Coach Bobby Johnson on John Michael Schmitz: “He’s progressing quite well. He’s got all of the intangibles you look for. He’s got all of the physical traits you look for. We’ll find out more when we get to training camp… He’s progressing the right way… It will be an eye-opener for him when he has to block (Dexter Lawrence in training camp).”
Evan Neal on what he did this offseason to improve: “Really just everything. I want to get better across the board. I tweaked my stance. I got a lot healthier. I got a lot more flexible. I worked a lot on flexibility. Just being able to move throughout my lower body and my hips. Making sure that I am in a stance that I am comfortable in, that I can load up my front leg and press out of it and be explosive and also be balanced and under control at the same time… I’ve been doing a whole bunch of yoga.”
Marcus McKethan on his status: “Just trying to get healthy. That’s the main thing of my offseason so far. I’m pretty close, just getting over that final hump and I feel like that I’ll be there. My timeline right now is training camp… I (am still working at) guard and tackle.”
Offensive Line Coach Bobby Johnson on what Giants fans can realistically expect this year: “You’re going to see an improved offensive line in a number of areas. We are going to start to show an identity and some consistency… I think for the first time in a long time the fans are going to be proud of their lineman… I think we’re going to put a product out there on the field that the fans will have pride in. Because I know the players that are going to put those jerseys on will have pride in that jersey.”
PREDICTIONS/CLOSING THOUGHTS: If you told Giants fans in January that the team would not add any tackles or guards to the roster this offseason, they probably would have freaked out. But the confidence in this front office and coaching staff right now is so high that given that now-known outcome, fans are not now panicking in June. Not adding a tackle or guard in free agency, the draft, or the rookie free agent signing period is pretty telling. It seems to suggest the team wants to develop players already on the roster.
Giants fans are all thinking the same thing… we’re set at left tackle with Andrew Thomas. Now we need Evan Neal to rapidly improve at right tackle and for John Michael Schmitz to show signs he will be a long-term answer at center. There is also hope that the two second-year, North Carolina guards will eventually press for starting roles.
Assuming Schmitz starts at center, the only training camp battle for a starting spot is at left guard. In the spring, Ben Bredeson and Josh Ezeudu were splitting snaps with the first team with Bredeson also receiving first-team snaps at center. Glowinski is probably entrenched as a starter at right guard for at least one more season, unless he falters and someone like Marcus McKethan presses him. I’m in the minority on this, but I still would not count out Shane Lemieux. He started his rookie season. He was set to start in 2021 and 2022 before training camp injuries ruined both seasons. In four years in college as a starter, Lemieux never missed a game. The last two seasons seems like flukes.
Andrew Thomas has not reached his ceiling yet. Keep in mind this is the first offseason he did not have surgery and this is the first time he will have the same offensive line coach for two years in a row.
This brings us to Evan Neal. We all know Neal struggled as a rookie. But too many fans seem to be focused on him and not the interior line spots that were also an issue last year. Neal needs to improve but the team needs better center and guard play just as much. Especially in this division. My prediction is Neal will improve as the year progresses, but he will be nitpicked to death by fans in September and October. That’s OK. I’m old enough to remember Giants fans being sure that Brad Benson, Jumbo Elliott, David Diehl, and Andrew Thomas were crappy players. Neal will be better but I think the real dividends will come in year three and beyond.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Andrew Thomas, Evan Neal, Tyre Phillips, Mark Glowinski, Ben Bredeson, Josh Ezeudu, Marcus McKethan, Shane Lemieux, John Michael Schmitz