Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his deep receiving corps have been lauded as a combo that will wreak havoc on the rest of the league this season – especially as they’ve all had a year of experience in offensive coordinator’s Ben McAdoo’s intricate offense.
But all that potential and expectations may go by the wayside if the offensive line can’t hold its weight.
New York’s starting five was altered even before training camp commenced when starting left tackle Will Beatty injured his pectoral during minicamp in a freak weight-lifting injury. His replacement, rookie first-round pick Ereck Flowers, is also on the sideline with a hip flexor – albeit his malady isn’t as long-term as Beatty. Beatty may return by mid-to-late season, while Flowers is listed as day-to-day.
What’s also day to day are the tepid hopes for a reworked offensive line that has been put together on the fly. Taking over for Flowers has been Justin Pugh, who was slotted as the starting left guard when it appeared that Big Blue had drafted Flowers to take his spot at right tackle. Had the Giants’ plans not been altered, their offensive line would’ve been deemed a strength. But as currently constituted, it’s a major question mark.
Manning, though, insisted he doesn’t have any qualms about his shuffled line.
“I think they’ve adjusted well. They’ve all been well-coached and know their assignments. They’ve done a good job with the blitz pickups and changing plays and adjustments. I don’t think we’ve had any miscues on that. So I think that’s a good thing,” Manning said, adding he’s more worried about his own performances. “Right now, my concern at practice is just making reads and making good decisions, trying to get the ball out on time and working my fundamentals as the offensive line is working their fundamentals.”
The five-some has not only been working hard at their fundamentals, but have ramped up their toughness, as that unit has been the primary culprit in instigating any dustups.
Head coach Tom Coughlin has had the team in full pads twice during this steamy week, adding to the trials and tribulations of camp. Couple those factors with large men in full gear playing an aggressive game – particularly in team 9-on-7 drills (nine defenders against seven offensive players) -- and tempers will flare.
Guard Geoff Schwartz likes all the physicality, and thinks it’ll only help the offensive line build a nasty mentality going forward.
“We’re all competitive. You don’t want to lose, especially when you have 9-on-7 and those types of drills,” Schwartz said. “That’s what we do - we run the ball and stop the run, so it’s pretty intense. We get after it a little bit more. I definitely think our position has to be evaluated with pads on. Our job is to be physical and to move people. The only way you can do that is to practice in pads.”
Newcomer Kenrick Ellis said he likes what he’s seeing from the offensive line, and doesn’t mind the chippy play from his brethren.
“It’s been a lot of fun [to] be physical without remorse, attacking and stuff,” Ellis said of the extra physical nature. “We’re the big guys, so we pride ourselves on being physical. When the pads come on, that’s what we do, we’re physical. It’s like gladiators now, battling to the death out there.”
Fellow defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins also said he’s “fine” with the extra physicality and minor fighting, noting he thinks it’s because the offensive line is “trying to show their attitude.”
The Giants need more attitude from this maligned unit, as it’s been under critical siege in recent years. Gone are championship stalwarts like Sean O’Hara, Rich Seubert, Davis Diehl, Kareem McKenzie, and Chris Snee. That unit was a constant as ever-present as Manning when it came to consecutive starts.
Today’s version, though, doesn’t effuse such confidence just yet, which makes the daily reps together all the more important. It’s never a good sign when virtual unknowns like Ellis, rookie defensive end Owa Odighizuwa, and linebacker Mark Herzlich are causing havoc in the pocket, as they did multiple times during Thursday’s team session. Ellis’s pressure on Manning caused the signal caller’s first interception of camp, Odighizuwa collapsed the pocket and had a virtual sack of backup Ryan Nassib, and Herzlich was consistently knocking blockers into the backfield.
Richburg said while he wished there was even more time to gel, he’s not too worried that they can’t improve in time of actual games against other teams.
“I do think from a physical standpoint, I think it would be pretty beneficial to have those two-a-days, but we’ve got to play with the hand we’re dealt,” Richburg said. “That makes it more important for us to go out in our single practices and get as much work in and as much progress in as we can.”
Big Blue will need their offensive line to progress quickly and shore up the deficiencies if Manning and Co. are to light up the scoreboard, as many expect.
Big Blue notes:
-The offensive line continues its overhaul, due to injuries. Right guard Schwartz, center Richburg, current starting left tackle Flowers, and the usual starting left tackle Beatty, did not work today. Simply put, that’s 80 percent of the projected starting lineup that’s currently missing.
-One shining star on the offensive line has been Pugh, who has yet to miss a first-team snap so far in camp.
-Cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin) did not practice.
-Former Giants guards Seubert and Snee visited training camp.