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With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Offensive Line
2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: The overall play of the New York Giants offensive line improved in 2014 from its dreadful performance in 2013 but the unit was still sub par. The Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. Pass protection was better as the Giants gave up 30 sacks on the season, which was 9th-best in the NFL. But that figure is a bit misleading given the offense’s new emphasis on getting rid of the ball quickly (West Coast Offense) and quarterback Eli Manning’s long-established tendency to get rid of the ball quickly and not take the sack (which he probably actually should do more often when under duress).
The improvement that did take place not only had to do with the individual components playing better, but the Giants had greater cohesion up front due to far fewer injuries. In 2013, the Giants used seven different starting offensive line combinations, the second-highest total in the NFL that season. In 2014, the same players started all 16 games at left tackle (Will Beatty), center (J.D. Walton), and right guard (John Jerry). Weston Richburg started 15 games at left guard and Justin Pugh started 14 games at right tackle.
That all said, it is widely-recognized that the offensive line was once again a sore spot in 2014. Chris Snee retired before training camp. The Giants counted on high-priced free agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz to be a major building block, but Schwartz only played in two games due to injuries. Beatty had a decent year, but Walton and Jerry really struggled at times. Pugh regressed after a strong rookie season and Richburg experienced the expected growing pains, especially since he was playing out of position. Overall, the line was more finesse than power, which usually is not good for any offense, but especially so for one predicated on balance and the ability to run the football.
Another issue was the overall poor depth situation. James Brewer, Brandon Mosley, Eric Herman, Dallas Reynolds, and Adam Snyder were complete non factors and did not push the weaker links on the line. Adam Gettis was signed late in the season from the Steelers practice squad and ex-Eagle Michael Bamiro was signed to the Giants practice squad.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants released center J.D. Walton in March. Tackle James Brewer signed with the Jets in free agency and the Giants have made no effort to re-sign guard Adam Snyder. The Giants signed CFL All-Star center Brett Jones and street free agent tackle Emmett Cleary early in the offseason and then signed unrestricted free agent tackle Marshall Newhouse from the Bengals.The Giants drafted tackle Ereck Flowers in the first round and guard Bobby Hart in the seventh round. The team also signed rookie free agent tackle Sean Donnelly.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The Giants will enter training camp with no 2014 starter remaining at the same position. Will Beatty tore his pectoral muscle in an offseason weight-lifting accident and will probably miss at least half of the regular season. Because of that, the Giants are starting Ereck Flowers at left tackle at least one year sooner than they anticipated (post-draft comments by Giants officials made it clear that they saw Flowers as Beatty’s eventual replacement). Flowers had been penciled in at right tackle but now Marshall Newhouse – a player benched by the Packers and Bengals – gets first crack at the position. Weston Richburg moves to his more natural position of center. Justin Pugh has shifted from right tackle to left guard. Geoff Schwartz moves from left guard to his more natural right guard position.
The Giants have now invested two first-round draft picks (Pugh and Flowers), two second-round draft picks (Beatty and Richburg), and a high-priced free agent (Schwartz) on the offensive line. Even though Beatty is out, much improvement is expected. On paper, the Giants look strong inside (Pugh-Richburg-Schwartz) with significant question marks at tackle (Flowers and Newhouse). Flowers should eventually excel, but growing pains should be expected. Newhouse’s track record during the last few years has not been good and he appears to be the obvious weak link. The Giants may be forced to move Schwartz to right tackle and start John Jerry at right guard if Newhouse can’t handle the position. The situation should improve when Beatty returns mid-season, but long-term, Beatty may have sealed his fate with the team, especially if Flowers shows steady improvement at left tackle.
Another area of focus is the depth situation and if one of the younger players could possibly surprise and push for a starting job. Brandon Mosley apparently had a good spring as he received some first-team reps during OTAs. The Giants have some very big, young tackles including Michael Bamiro (6’8”, 340lbs), Emmett Cleary (6’7”, 324lbs), and Sean Donnelly (6’7”, 333lbs). The team drafted guard Bobby Hart (6’4”, 334lbs). Brett Jones was a CFL All-Star who is now adjusting to the NFL game.
Overall, the Giants need the line to become a much more physical and intimidating presence. Flowers has a reputation as a bad ass and should help. Pugh and Richburg worked hard in the offseason to get bigger and stronger. The Giants need Schwartz to rebound from a serious ankle injury and be a tough veteran inside.
ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will probably carry nine offensive linemen. Beatty will probably start the season on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List and not count against the 53-man roster limit. Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, and Schwartz are the locks. Newhouse and Jerry are on shaky ground, but one will likely start and the other will likely provide veteran depth. The other nine offensive linemen will probably be fighting for three spots. Those linemen include Mosley, Bamiro, Cleary, Donnelly, Hart, Jones, Dallas Reynolds, Eric Herman, and Adam Gettis. Troy Kropog is also currently on a PUP List.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Pat Flaherty on Weston Richburg: “Right now the progress is good, it really is. He learned an awful lot last year but I knew that he was going to be a player for a very long time and I know I’m using that, but I believe it because he likes the game of football. He really has embraced the center position because you are the voice of everybody to start out and the quarterback may change things, but you are telling everyone what to do. I think that Weston has a little bit of bossman in him and he likes that.”
Flaherty on Michael Bamiro: “I’ll tell you he is the Kevin Garnett of the football players, that guy is huge. He is a good worker, he really is. He has some position versatility from being a tackle to a guard and we worked out with him. We have to really find out a little more about him when we get on pads, but I like his attitude.”
Flaherty on Justin Pugh: “I think that he likes playing and I love guys who like playing. I think any position that you put him at, he would play it. He would like to be a guy that is settled in one position. Most guys are that way. I think you probably get that feeling from him more than anything. He would only get better at the tackle position for us. Is he a better guard than tackle? He is going to be a good football player…Justin has very good feet, he is a very good athlete, has tremendous lower body strength and when you get closer to the ball at the guard position, you are going to be blocking bigger people, so I think that is going to be an advantage for us. He will be able to block those people.”
Flaherty on Geoff Schwartz: “Geoff wants to do it and he has worked awful hard to get back from his injury and he just needs to have the good luck charm on his side for once. Once he is able to do that, here is a guy that can be in the next half dozen years and have a tremendous finish to his career.”
PREDICTIONS: While there will be growing pains with Ereck Flowers, 4/5ths of the Giants offensive line could be set for a few years provided there are no more injuries and Schwartz recovers well from his ankle injury. Flowers will bring much-needed toughness and physicality to the line. Richburg seems primed to develop into a good one at center and the Giants seem to think Pugh will excel at left guard. In fact, these three players could not only be solid, but very good.
“We like (Flowers) as a future left tackle of the New York Giants. I am very comfortable with him being out there right now,” said Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo during the mini-camp.
“(Pugh) is a football-smart guy,” said McAdoo. “He is a hard worker. He brings a nice level of physicality that we like. Some grit to the position right there. It is probably a position that doesn’t get as much glamor as a tackle, but when you are on the left side, it is important position to protect the backside of the quarterback away from his vision. The left guard position is especially important because a lot goes on there on the inside. When one becomes two and two becomes three and when zero becomes one and all the movement happens, you have to make quick decisions and we feel Justin can do that.”
“Weston is a natural center,” said McAdoo. “I am excited for him. I am excited for the offense. I think he brings some energy to the position and to the offense. He’s a guy who likes to have control of things and likes to have his hand on the football. He works very hard at it. I like Weston.”
The obvious question mark is Newhouse at right tackle. He could be the Achilles’ heel for the entire line. Given his struggles in the league the last few years, it’s hard to imagine him being the answer. If he has problems early, the Giants may have to pull the plug and scramble to fill the position. While fans knock John Jerry, he may be an important piece of the short-term puzzle. The pie-in-the-sky hope is that someone like Mosley or Bamiro presses for starting time.
“Marshall has played a little bit of everywhere,” said McAdoo. “I was with him in the past when he first got into the league. He has played just about every position. I believe he even snapped the ball at one point. He is a smart guy. He gets the game. He is very nimble-footed. We need to get some pads on and get out there and get a look at him with the defense moving and be physical. He has done it before and he has done it at a high level before and he will have an opportunity to be a major contributor this year.”
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Schwartz, Newhouse, Jerry, Mosley, Hart, and Jones.