will hernandez giants
Syndication: The Record

Will Hernandez needs a bounce-back year after 2020’s struggles. Could he succeed on the right side of the line?

Experiencing a hindered development as a young offensive lineman; catching COVID-19 in the middle of the season; returning to the team only to see your starting left guard job in the hands of a rookie.

Will Hernandez underwent a 2020 campaign he probably would like to put in the rearview. It was during that very season he became a reserve guard on what was a mediocre-at-best offensive line.

This offseason, however, the Giants made right guard Kevin Zeitler a cap casualty and parted ways with the veteran in March. The roster move opened up a potential spot for Hernandez and may pave the way for a career resurgence, but is the fourth-year player ready to assume responsibility at a guard position not on his primary side?

“It’s basically just a flip-flop thing. Everything you do on the left side, you do it on the right, except everything’s reversed,” Hernandez told the media Wednesday following the Giants’ first full-team training camp practice. “It’s not as hard as people sometimes make it seem. A transition is a transition. It’s different, but for me, I feel it smoothly and I’m going to give it my all.”

“I played right guard all throughout high school. I switched out a little bit in college as well, [former UTEP head football coach Sean] Kugler had me playing both sides…so I guess you can say I’ve played right guard all my life, just not as much in my recent years,” he later added.

It wasn’t just COVID-19 that eventually led to Hernandez losing his starting role after seven games in 2020.

The on-field struggles were arguably more apparent than ever and contributed to a regression in Hernandez’s play.

His rookie campaign was promising — the 2018 second-round pick scored a solid 67.9 Pro Football Focus grade. But after that, things became worse. A 58.4 PFF grade in 2019 was followed by a career-low 58.1 grade last season.

When he returned to the team following his COVID experience, the Giants felt they were better off with then-first-year player Shane Lemieux as the starting left guard (and they essentially were).

Hernandez’s opportunity to produce again in 2021 is thus extremely crucial, but it means offseason changes were required to avoid a repeat of past issues.

“I did up my training — a lot more intensity, a lot more conditioning. Just did different things than I did in the past,” he said. “There was a famous saying by my college strength coach: ‘If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.’ So I did a lot of things differently this year. Ate different, worked out different.”

In order to consistently succeed, which is what Hernandez must do if he wishes to remain with the team long-term, you need a significant number of opportunities to portray your talents. Amid the aforementioned setbacks of last year, Will lost out on a number of chances to really prove himself.

If all goes well moving forward, the young lineman will receive those necessary reps — an obvious motivator.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself and I know what I’ve always been able to do…and I have the same mentality now,” he told the media. “Now, I just get the chance to actually show it, which makes me really happy.”

As far as the entire offensive line is concerned, there’s slated to be position battles at the right guard and right tackle spots. The latter role could go to second-year man Matthew Peart, who the Giants drafted in 2020’s third round, or veteran Nate Solder, who opted out last season.

Hernandez’s main right guard competitor might be veteran Zach Fulton, who the Giants signed to a one-year deal this offseason. While Fulton started all 16 games for Houston last year, Hernandez has a leg-up on the 29-year-old given his experience in the Joe Judge-Jason Garrett system.

Ryan Honey is a staff writer and host of the Wide Right Podcast.