As the adage goes, nowhere is continuity more crucial and beneficial than on the offensive line. As the five players with their hands in the dirt, poised to prevent the onslaught from the crazed defensive behemoths across the line, well, each of them had better know what the other is thinking and how the guy next to him is going to react in every situation.
For all the Giants seem to lack on their offensive line, continuity cannot be denied. They have got it, with all five starters back from 2016. There is no need to adjust to a newcomer or a returning player moving to a new position.
“I don’t know if we’re learning a lot about each other,” center Weston Richburg said. “We’ve played together enough to know each other.”
Fine. Feel free to cross out “lack of familiarity” as a reason the Giants’ offensive line continues to struggle.
What about pure size and power? Looking back at the most recent preseason game, was it a case of the Browns defensive line dominating because of sheer strength or aggressiveness?
“I think we’re physical,” Richburg said. “I don’t think that’s the problem. Our physicality was not lacking.”
Well, then cross another one off the list of possible deficiencies. The Giants were not confused or overpowered up front. In fact, Richburg maintains there were no mental errors along the line, yet the starters were on the field for 28 snaps and achieved very little.
If it is not mental, if it is not physical, what is it?
“Maybe technique is a better word, which is all we work on out here with offensive line coach Mike Solari,” Richburg said.
If it is poor or sloppy technique holding the Giants back, it is indeed troubling heading into Saturday night’s annual preseason meeting with the Jets in the MetLife Bowl.
In two preseason games, the Giants have yet to score a touchdown. They are averaging 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. The starting running back, Paul Perkins, is averaging 1.2 yards per carry and has more runs for zero or negative yards than positive yards.
Mastering the techniques required of an offensive lineman — hand placement, footwork, leverage — never is a finished product. With the Giants, though, this group should be further along. True, left tackle Ereck Flowers and right tackle Bobby Hart are only 23, but each is entering his third NFL season and each already has two years of NFL coaching to lean on after playing extensively at major college programs (Miami for Flowers, Florida State for Hart). Right guard John Jerry is in his eighth NFL season, left guard Justin Pugh is in his fifth and Richburg is in his fourth. If technique suffers as the pressure mounts, replacements are needed. This could mean the players simply are not good enough.
Backup center Brett Jones this past week received some first-team reps in place of Jerry, but that probably had more to do with seeing if Jones can be counted on for depth at two positions than with a serious threat of a lineup change.
“I think the first group needs to play together, and you need to be able to push the first group as well, so there is a balance there,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “But guys have earned opportunities to go in there and compete, and we need to give them those opportunities.”
Massive D.J. Fluker, a starter with the Chargers, is waiting in the wings at right guard if Jerry falters. Jerry and Richburg have not been impressive this summer. Flowers is a project, and his gains are infinitesimal rather than seismic. Hart is more a stopgap starter. Pugh is solid.
This unit’s members know each other. But is that good enough to allow Eli Manning to utilize all the weapons at his disposal — once Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall get healthy?
“Yeah, continuity is important, but these guys have played together for a few years now and they know each other and they do not have any problems communicating, so communication won’t be an issue there,” McAdoo said.
Keeping the offensive line together turned into a priority for general manager Jerry Reese after he scanned the free-agent market, studied the 2017 draft class and did not like what he saw. Is it too late to make changes?
“Never,” McAdoo said. “Convenience is never a good answer. You have to do what is best for the team, and if you can improve the roster, you improve it. If you can improve the starting lineup, you improve it. You never take the easy way out.”
Three Players to Watch
Donte Deayon: There is not a more popular or effervescent youngster on the roster, and with Michael Hunter slowed by a hamstring injury and Valentino Blake leaving the team abruptly, this is a golden opportunity for the pint-sized (5-foot-6, 163-pound) cornerback and punt returner.
Jordan Williams: This 24-year-old defensive end looks the part and has been effective in practices. He has one sack in the preseason. It is crowded at his position, but he could vault past Owa Odighizuwa if he hasn’t already.
Paul Perkins: Starters usually are not put under the microscope in the preseason, but Perkins is a starter without a starting résumé. His work this summer has been unimpressive. Another stinker and Orleans Darkwa and perhaps rookie Wayne Gallman could gain ground.
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