The New York Giants’ offensive line is a unit that has drawn a load of criticism the past few years and has been blamed for many of the team’s recent failures. Although they are ranked by several prominent websites as just a tad below average, the perception is they are one of the league’s worst. The reality is much different, however.
The Giants have three first round picks (LG Justin Pugh, LT Ereck Flowers, G/T D.J. Fluker) and a second round pick (C Weston Richburg) along the line. The pedigree is there. They also have a reliable veteran in guard John Jerry and two young tackles with high ceilings in Bobby Hart and Adam Bisnowaty.
Their issue has been continuity and cohesiveness. When Tom Coughlin went out the door after the 2015 season, his long time offensive line coach, Pat Flaherty, followed him. He was replaced last season by another accomplished veteran coach, Mike Solari, but for the linemen, they were all back on the learning curve again.
Some of the linemen struggled last season under Solari. Richburg was on the verge of Pro Bowl recognition under Flaherty, but under Solari, seemed to take a step back. Flowers played so poorly at times, his transgressions were becoming overtly obvious. Pugh battled through a knee injury that cost him a third of the season. Hart also regressed.
This summer, the line knows what to expect from Solari and strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman. They know they will be asked to be more physical, and one of the tenets of Solari’s philosophy is hand speed. Several of the linemen have taken up boxing to refine the use of their hands and increase speed.
“A lot of guys got into some boxing,” said Pugh at last week’s minicamp. “I know Coach Solari talked about working on getting your hand speed up, and things of that nature. But at the same time, offensive line play is still offensive line play. So, you still have to work on those fundamentals that are going to make you a successful offensive lineman.”
“I know Ereck Flowers did it, I did it myself, Bobby Hart’s done it. I know Weston [Richburg] and John Jerry went out to the o-line performance out in Arizona, which some guys do,” said Pugh. “So, everyone is working hard, everyone knows. I mean, it’s our livelihood, so it’s not like we’re coming out here not trying to work hard, or not trying to be successful, because then you don’t have a job. It’s not for the lack of effort, that no one is going to go out there and not be successful.”
Solari let on that Richburg’s hand injury (torn tendons in his snapping hand) prevented him from doing much of what was required of him in 2016. He played the whole season hurt.
“That hurts.” Solari said during the team’s OTAs earlier this month. “That hurts you; your hand placement, your ability to grab, ability to work the chest plate is a big part of the game. So that was tough for him, and he worked through it and he performed at the highest level that he could without being able to use that hand at full strength. But it would be a big difference this year.”
The biggest improvement on the line could come from Flowers and Hart, the two young tackles who worked all winter to reshape their bodies. Flowers appears to be significantly lighter this spring thanks to an austerity program in which consisted of a strict diet and a rigorous workout program at the team’s facility in New Jersey with Hart.
Flowers was out on the practice field wearing a hooded sweatshirt under his jersey in the 90-degree heat last week to sweat off some more pounds. He would not say how much weight he’s lost, but says he is lighter, quicker and his footwork has improved. The boxing has also helped with his hand placement and speed. Solari is optimistic that both of young tackles are on the verge of turning the corner of their careers.
“Just like everything else, you work different drills, you work techniques, and you just keep honing in until you could make it where you don’t have to think about it and its part of your toolkit,” explained Solari. “The thing is, what we’re excited about, and Ereck is excited about, so is Bobby and not just those two men, everybody. They are committed. Aaron Wellman did a beautiful job in the sense of where they need to improve on. Physically working in the weight room, conditioning aspect, you could tell the difference. I believe you could tell the difference, in the terms of their body types and where they’re at physically at this time of the season. It’s still early, so that’s really encouraging.”
Solari said the two are not only getting in line physically, but mentally as well.
“They do a nice job in the classroom,” said Solari. “You’re not privy to that, but they do a nice job in the classroom. They’re into it, they’re learning, they’re into the film study, they’re into their techniques. They know what they are trying to work on, they know what they are trying to achieve.”
Flowers said he learned a lot from Flaherty and is now learning as much, if not more, from Solari. He was asked if the best is yet to come from him, the fact that he was only 23 and going into his third season.
“Yeah, I believe that.”
The Giants appear to believe it, too.