The acquisition of Jon Halapio may have expanded the New York Giants’ starting center battle, but are any of the options truly reliable?
With the regular season right around the corner amid what’s been a strange and rather unusual training camp period, the New York Giants still possess a number of starting spots to configure. The slot corner role is still without a concrete starter and Big Blue will also need to make a decision on who takes over the inside linebacker spot alongside Blake Martinez.
An additional undecided role, and a crucial one considering how much this offensive line must improve from last year, is at center. There was already a battle taking place between Spencer Pulley, who started nine games for the Giants in 2018, and the young Nick Gates, who the organization is seemingly confident in despite him having never played the center position in the pros.
But now there’s likely a new addition to the mix in Jon Halapio, a guy who started 15 games for this very organization last year. The Giants remained patient before bringing him back — which they did this week — due to the fact that Halapio suffered a torn Achilles in last season’s Week 17 loss to Philadelphia. Head coach Joe Judge says the decision to acquire him isn’t involved with how he views the alternative options, but it’s reasonable to think he’ll at least compete for the job.
Having said that, the move to acquire Halapio could make this position battle even more wide open than it already was, as none of the options stand out all too much from one another. The tight-knit battle isn’t all positive though. In all honesty, Halapio, Pulley, and Gates may not be legitimate reliable options, something the Giants need on the roster with the regular season approaching.
Beginning with Halapio, it seems the Giants and general manager Dave Gettleman possess a notable level of confidence in him. After all, they decided to bring him back for both last season and this year as well.
But the question is: Why?
Halapio has proven to be an injury-prone individual, having suffered a significant leg injury in each of the last pair of campaigns. During the 2018 Week 2 loss to Dallas, he went down with a season-ending broken right ankle and lower leg. Then, the Achilles tear occurred this past December.
No, he didn’t miss any games or starts due to the latter health-related setback, but you can’t take away the fact that it did indeed happen. He spent much of this offseason rehabbing the injury, which should cause him to be behind in terms of general physicality and durability.
Not to mention, he wasn’t all that dominant last year, having finished with a not-so-memorable 56.3 Pro Football Focus grade through 980 offensive snaps. He wasn’t the worst center in the league, but in no way will his 2019 performance lead to the Giants locking him in for a starting spot, especially with a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach respectively on the staff in Jason Garrett and Marc Colombo.
Pulley isn’t the greatest choice either for the job; he didn’t really prove his worth as an every-game starter during the 2018 campaign. His 58.3 PFF grade (566 offensive snaps) that year was a little bit better than Halapio’s 2019 mark, but nowhere near a score that makes the viewer double-take when looking towards the computer screen.
Despite a lower sample size (95 snaps), Pulley’s 2019 PFF grade — 48.7 — was even worse than it was the year prior. The 27-year-old took offensive reps in three games, including a start in the Week 10 loss to the New York Jets while Halapio was sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Needless to say, Pulley isn’t a consistent nor reliable option, and the interior of this offensive line may not take the leap it needs to take if he’s the one manning the middle.
If Gates is the man for the job — and he’s taken notable reps at center in training camp — then the Giants should provide him with this remarkable opportunity and hope he makes the most of it. Nonetheless, he’s still very young at 24 years of age and has never taken an in-game pro-level snap at center.
In the event Gates wins the position battle, the Giants would then likely be starting two offensive linemen who have never garnered any pro experience at their respective positions prior to 2020 — the other being rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas. This general level of inexperience may not be beneficial for the unit’s overall chemistry and success, which, in turn, would affect the development of quarterback Daniel Jones and this young offensive unit.
So whichever way you look at it, the signing of Halapio will likely make the competition for the starting center job even more of a wide-open battle. However, not in a completely advantageous way. Each of the potential options may turn out to hinder the success of this offensive line, and even constant changes in the starting lineup thereafter could cause things to become even worse in terms of the unit’s chemistry.