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Leading into the July 27 opening of Giants training camp, The Post will analyze 11 position groups based on personnel, strengths, weaknesses and key depth chart battles. Today’s look-in: Offensive line.
Whoever said offensive lines are usually overshadowed and ignored has not been around the Giants lately. The fans are passionately and vehemently either up in arms or despondent about the state of affairs at this position. With good reason. The product has been shabby for years, and the group assembled has plenty to prove. The best that can be said about the presumed starting lineup is that it is incredibly young — 22, 23, 25, 25 and 23 from left to right. So, if this experiment works out, these guys could be together for a while. If not? Yikes.
Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Will Hernandez, Matt Peart, Nate Solder, Zach Fulton, Jonotthan Harrison, Chad Slade, Kyle Murphy, Jackson Barton, Kenny Wiggins, Brett Heggie, Jake Burton.
Quick, point out the proven linemen. Who among these guys can be regarded as solid, consistent and someone you do not have to worry about? This unit had one of those in guard Kevin Zeitler, but he was released for salary-cap savings and quickly signed with the Ravens.
The Giants are really rolling the dice here. They did not sign a starting-caliber player in free agency and did not use any of their six draft picks to address this spot. Their reasoning: We like the guys we have better than the fans and the media do. If that confidence does not translate into tangible results, all those fancy new toys on offense (Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Kyle Rudolph) will be grounded.
Thomas, the first offensive tackle off the board in the 2020 draft, struggled early, improved later and battled through ankle issues. He needs to progress, pronto. He has the smarts and toughness to do so. Peart, as a third-round pick last year, played 150 snaps and has the size and athletic ability to be a legitimate right tackle. Let him loose and let’s see what he’s got, the Giants say. OK, then. Gates never before had played center, and that inexperience showed, but he got better and better in 2020 and is a growing leader. Lemieux started nine games at left guard as a rookie, showed some bullishness as a run blocker, but he had better get better as a pass protector. More is expected of Hernandez, a coveted 2018 second-round pick. He was not great early last season, then tested positive for COVID-19 and never got his job back. He is moving to right guard and facing a make-or-break season.
Solder opted out in 2020 and his 33-year-old body got a nice break. He will be the swing backup tackle, as long as he remains healthy. The Giants believe their depth, with Solder, Harrison and Fulton (11 sacks allowed with the Texans in 2020), has desirable experience. The talent might be lacking, though.
Peart gets first crack at right tackle, but if he cannot cut it, Solder will be there, though he has been a left tackle for practically all of his NFL career. Will Lemieux do enough to retain his starting job? Pro Football Focus hated his work as a pass protector — flagging Lemieux for five sacks allowed, six quarterback hits allowed and 25 total pressures given up. The other summer duels are for backup spots on the roster, as the Giants pretty much are tied to this starting group, for better or worse.
According to PFF, the Giants own the No. 32 offensive line in the league. Yes, there are just 32 teams in the league, so this ranking has them as dead last. The keys to success are held by Peart and Hernandez. If they are not up to the challenge, it is going to be a long, long season.
Hernandez is entering the final year on his rookie contract and he is fighting to extend his Giants career into 2022. Peart is going to be allowed to play through mistakes. As a premium draft pick, Thomas has to develop into a franchise left tackle. He has the right temperament, but his first year was not exactly an overwhelming success. More stability — this unit went through two offensive line coaches in a turbulent 2020 season — will help these youngsters stay on message.
Next up: Inside linebackers.
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