The New York Giants’ most glaring need this offseason was along the offensive line. Many feel they still haven’t properly addressed it.
The New York Giants‘ offensive line has taken a lot of heat the past few years. What once was a stalwart unit during their Super Bowl years has deteriorated into a sloppy, disorganized, underperforming mess.
This offseason, the goal was to upgrade that line. General manager Jerry Reese has dedicated some several high draft picks to rebuild the line, using two first rounders on Justin Pugh and Ereck Flowers and a second rounder on Weston Richburg. Still, the line is subpar.
The running game has sunk to the bottom of the league. The line does not win their battles up front. Whatever holes they open close quickly, leaving runners nowhere to go. Last year, the Giants were 29th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 88.2 yards per game.
The inept rushing attack has caused a rippling effect throughout the offense. It has seeped into the mindset of head coach Ben McAdoo and his play calling strategy. They often gave up on the running game, sometimes too early.
As a result, the Giants passed the ball on 61.6% of their offensive plays last year. That normally wouldn’t be a problem considering the personnel they have in the passing game. But QB Eli Manning does not trust his protection any longer. He hurries too many passes and is forced to just flatly give up on other plays to avoid getting his 36-year-old body hit.
That basically shut down the offense the last third of the season. The Giants were a shade over 50 percent in the red zone and didn’t score over 19 points in any of their last six games.
The offensive line was pointed to as the area of contention. I personally disagreed as did many others such as the folks over at Pro Football Focus, who rated them in the middle of the pack. Not good, but not terrible, either.
The main issues the Giants had on offense was the lack of size and toughness as well as a new scheme along the line under new OL coach Mike Solari, who replaced longtime Tom Coughlin assistant Pat Flaherty. The cohesiveness never came.
They also came out of camp without a fullback and a blocking tight end. Then they lost RB Shane Vereen, their most versatile player and Manning’s security blanket. To add to the problem, the Giants’ WR corps, all under 6-foot, by the way, are below average blockers. So, the offensive line wasn’t very good, but the Giants did nothing to make their job easier.
This offseason, they made moves to correct that. Signing a big WR in Brandon Marshall, who is a great red zone player and blocker was a start. Then, Reese inked Minnesota’s Rhett Ellison, who can play both TE and FB, a move which addressed those needs with one swoop of the pen.
The Giants are also bringing in San Diego State FB Shane Smith (6-foot-1, 244 pounds), a powerful kid who pumped out 36 reps on the bench press at his pro day in March. So, they are building up their periphery to the hilt to support the line this year.
They also made several moves in free agency, signing D.J. Fluker to a one-year “prove-it” deal worth $3 million and re-signing John Jerry for three years at $10 million. Fluker, a former first-round pick of the Chargers out of Alabama in 2013, can play both guard and tackle, while Jerry has been a steady player at right guard the past three seasons.
At the draft, GM Jerry Reese did not find a lineman that tickled his fancy until the sixth round, when he traded up to take Pitt tough guy Adam Bisnowaty, an offensive tackle known as a battler. It is possible the Giants has Utah OT Garret Bolles on their radar in the first round, but he was snatched up by Denver three spots before their chance on the clock was announced.
“We wanted to help the offensive line but we didn’t want to reach for anyone and we did that,” Reese said after the draft. “We always want to help every position and the offensive line is a position that we tried to help, but again, we’re not going to reach for anyone.”
After the draft, Reese made several UDFA signings of offensive linemen, all tackles: Chad Wheeler of USC, Armando Bonheur of Samford, Tennessee State’s Jessemen Dunker and Sam Ekwonike of Coastal Carolina.
And he’s probably not done. The June 1 cuts probably won’t produce many viable names, but there could be some veterans that become available during the summer. Reese is not ruling anything out.
But for the moment, the line stays fairly stagnant. Richburg will be the center and Pugh the left guard. They are the constants. If no one can unseat Flowers at LT, he’ll be the third constant.
Giants VP of Player Evaluation Marc Ross provided us the organization’s overview of Flowers the other day.
“We still have high hopes for Ereck,” Ross said of Flowers, who just turned 23 last week. “He’s young. The guy started two years in the NFL and the guy is still young. He really should be coming out in this draft. So to say that you are going to throw a guy away for having inconsistencies his first two years in the NFL, I don’t think that is very fair to Ereck. We think he’s going to get better; he’s going to take a big jump. He does everything possible to get better; he’s in here every day working his butt off, so we have high hopes for him.”
So, all of the fans who want to kick Flowers to the curb will have to wait. Looks like he’ll be the LT until further notice. Jerry will likely start camp again at RG and Bobby Hart, another third-year lineman who is coming off an uneven 2016, will be back in the mix at RT. But Fluker could end up challenging him there.
Other names on the roster to keep an eye on this summer: c Khalid Holmes, G Brett Jones, G Jon Halapio, G/T Adam Gettis, T Martin Wallace and T Michael Bowie. All will be in camp and compete for roster spots.
Granted those names don’t instill a ton of confidence in the hearts of Giant fans but give this plan a chance. Sometimes patience pays off. Maybe it will this time.