The Giants New OL Strategy and Personnel Decisions

I originally was going to post this after the second preseason game, and was going to add lots of pretty pictures, but as usual life gets in the way. As a result of the delay I came to understand the reason behind the Pugh pick and other OL personnel moves.

I am writing this post to explore the way in which the Giants have used offensive linemen, particularly this year and looking to the future. As someone who has followed many of their young players since college, I have been surprised at the Giants' personnel decisions. There are some interesting changes happening compared to their past practices. I have been very critical of how they have been using players, but in writing this post their overall strategy becomes more apparent. But even if I make allowances for their new strategy, there are still potental problems which I believe they should address.

The following list provides a brief summary of all of the players, outside of the established starters Beatty and Diehl, that have seen practice reps (as reported) or game snaps at tackle for the Giants:

James Brewer:
College: 3 year starter at right tackle, many injuries
Scouting Reports: Right Tackle, huge size
Jerry Reese: "We think he can play the right or left side"
Pro History: Giants 4th round 2011, tackle for first two years

Brewer played every position but center in the preseason. He has never displayed great foot speed, so the inside may be better for him. The move to guard was rumored at the end of last season. He received plenty of preseason game time at tackle in 2012. I have been very impressed with his play at guard, he has a strong base and moves well in run blocking.

Bryant Browning:
College: Started 1 year at right tackle, last 2 years at guard
Scouting Reports: Guard, good size, smart
Pro History: 2011 UDFA, camps and practice squads for 4 teams in 2 years at guard

At this point in his career Browning is most qualified to work for a real estate agency specializing in short-term housing. He has been bounced from guard-needy teams in Carolina and Cleveland. He obviously shows enough talent to keep getting calls. The Giants played him at right tackle in preseason games, with the third rotation. He last played tackle in 2009.

Selvish Capers:
College: 3 year starter at right tackle (for a lefty QB), converted from TE
Scouting Reports: Left Tackle, small and athletic
Pro History: 7th round pick in 2010 by Redskins, 3 years of practice squads, last 2 with NYG

Capers was the smallest tackle prospect I have ever seen, a shorter version of McCants. Drafted by Shanahan to fill that right tackle hole, spent one year on the practice squad there. Spent last two years on and off Giants practice squad and roster. Most of his snaps have come at left guard. This year, he played left guard in the first preseason game and left tackle in the last three. Giants have used him as the "waiting at home for a call" emergency backup, a role he is likely to reprise this year. Undersized at guard and has struggled at left tackle, but knows his assignments.

Chris DeGeare:
College: 3 year starter at guard, 1 year at left tackle
Scouting Reports: Guard, strong/slow/not-too-smart
Pro History: Vikings 5th round 2010, made roster, practice squads last 2 years (MIN & TEN), all at guard.

DeGeare played left tackle in the opening game for the Giants, and was getting tackle reps in practice. The Giants appear to be the only people that think he is a tackle. Two guard-needy teams did not even want him as a guard. He was cut because of a minor injury.

Stephen Goodin:
College: 2 year starter at guard, final year at left tackle, small school, converted from TE.
Scouting Reports: Guard, strong/fast/smart
Pro History: Giants UDFA 2012, practice squad at guard.

Goodin played right tackle in the opening game for the Giants, after spending last preseason getting work at guard. He does have the size for the position, but while he runs a sub-5.0 40, he does not look to be that quick on his feet. He then played center the last three weeks, and some guard in the last game. Goodin played college ball in a galaxy far, far away, so they obviously like the guy to have traveled to his pro day (only one other team went). He is an obvious longer-term project, so I do not mind giving him a chance at various positions. But he looked better on the inside, he has good strength and I noticed him maintaining the pocket in pass blocking, and moving the nose tackle in the run game. He supplanted McCants as the project center.

Matt McCants:
College: 4 year starter at tackle, 3 on the left
Scouting Reports: Left Tackle, athletic
Pro History: Giants 6th round 2012, tackle in camp, practice squad.

McCants played center and left guard in the first two preseason games, and then mostly rode the bench. Centers are supposed to be short and squat and strong. McCants has long arms (35 3/8) and had the build of Chris Bosh or Marcus Camby at his Senior Bowl. I saw left tackle feet, but thought he was too weak for the Giants. I think his strength dropped him in the draft. Then he hit the weight room and started eating. He got stronger, but also slower. Still, he showed some promise at tackle last year. This year he has played no tackle. He has struggled inside, and with snapping the ball.

Brandon Mosley:
College: junior college TE/DE, 2 year starter at right tackle
Scouting Reports: Right Tackle. Played LT vs Andre Branch (2nd round 2012), shut him down
Jerry Reese: "We think he can play some guard"
Pro History: Giants 4th round 2012, mostly guard in camp, IR

Mosley opened the preseason at right guard in place of Snee, and has also played at left guard. He has never really been given a serious chance at tackle, despite that being his only college OL position. He blocked for Cam Newton, which gave him some attention, but was a fringe prospect until he shut down Branch with his quick feet and good balance. I was scouting Branch and had to look up Mosley's number mid-game because I was so impressed. He was an athlete that bulked up to play OL and has tackle measurements. Skinny frame for a guard. Big DTs get a push on him. But he moves very well, he can pull and get to the second level. He's quicker and faster than Ballard was at TE.

Justin Pugh:
College: 3 year starter at Left Tackle
Scouting Reports: All over the place, from tackle to center.
Jerry Reese: "We think he can play outside, we think he can play inside. He'll start as a tackle."
Pro History: 1st round 2013, playing both sides as a tackle

Fans were shocked enough by Reese grabbing an offensive lineman in the first round, and were even more shocked to get a short-armed tackle that lacked great strength. And now Coughlin is starting him as a rookie at right tackle. Unbelievable! Despite his short arms, he does not lean after pass rushers, instead he uses his quick feet to square up to opponents.

Everyone here can recite the Giants clichés. "We like big athletes. We like physical specimens. Size/strength/speed. We are a ground it, pound it team." When we drafted offensive linemen high, we picked Jumbo Elliott, Luke Petitgout, Chris Snee. When we drafted running backs high, we drafted Jarrod Bunch, Tyrone Wheatley, Ron Dayne [I'M SORRY, IT'S DATA], and as older backs we picked up Ottis Anderson and Herschel Walker. And there was Brandon Jacobs.

But look at the camp roster and our tryout lists now. It is filled with every available member of the Who's Who of Weaker Tackles (Capers, McCants, Pugh, Zebrie Sanders). We have several linemen that started college as tight ends (Capers, Mosley, Goodin). We have numerous tackles playing guard. If you push the scrubs aside and look at our top young guys, you will not find much belly fat. Foot speed and athleticism is the name of the game. Guys that can move well. David Wilson and Brandon Myers fit with this group. IS IT POSSIBLE THAT REESE/COUGHLIN/GILBRIDE ARE ADAPTING TO THE NEW, QUICKER NFL?

The play concepts are also changing. Against the Jets, there were only two running plays that involved pulling offensive linemen. Instead there were a lot of zone blocking concepts. Guards moved forward to engage linebackers at the second level instead of moving sideways to lead block on plays. Against New England, there was a reverse in strategy. I noticed that there were a lot of runs with linemen pulling. It was almost as if we had two different offensive playbooks, but maybe we were trying to make it easier to view players that might have different abilities in the different systems.

Despite our dabbles into different offensive plays and more athletic players, we are not copying the personnel decisions of zone blocking teams. While we are looking for quicker players, we are not drafting the Kelces and Vanderveldes of the world. We are looking for guys with quick feet that also have length (I have Pugh as an outlier here, because exceptions are often made for first round talent). The tackles we are moving inside for the most part survived the draft measurement process with their tackle potential intact. They have the 34+ inch arms that the draft media, at least, has adopted as a tackle requirement. So Reese's "size and speed" drafting reputation is still relevant. He is just sacrificing a little of the size (in the weight department) for more speed. The long arms may be seen as an asset against quicker interior rushers, or may make it easier for linemen to get their hands on more nimble linebackers at the second level.

I have no problem with drafting tackles because of their better athleticism and moving them inside. It is a valid concept and there are other teams that do it. My concern, which was the original impetus behind this article, was the fact that they are so focused on moving these guys inside is that they are forgetting about the tackle position. I understand that Boothe, Snee, and even Baas are older and are designated for replacement soon. So yes, let us try several players at guard. However, they are forgetting the fact that these players started as tackles, the most important position on the line. If you consider this to be Diehl's last year and you look forward to who should be in camp in 2014, there will be twice as many potential guards as tackles. This has already been seen with news of Diehl's injury. Several people have remarked "Well, I guess Brewer is now the backup tackle by default." Because no one else with a serious roster shot is competing at tackle. McCants received no snaps against the Jets and ended up being cut because he fared poorly at center. Instead of giving him snaps at tackle, we gave snaps to DeGeare and Browning, guys with no chance of playing tackle in the NFL. Mosley has displayed great athleticism and a little trouble anchoring against more powerful DTs at guard. No snaps at tackle for him. Instead, we have been playing Capers at left tackle, after two years of playing him at left guard. We let Brewer embarrass himself at left tackle. DeGeare and Browning played tackle. Goodin received a few snaps at tackle, too. Why are the more athletic, long players like Mosley and McCants being ignored? They have the best physical attributes and skill set for the position. Instead we treated tackle snaps in preseason as a filler position, as if it is unimportant to develop skills there.

Now we sign Steven Baker to be a practice squad tackle. He fits our new profile, 6-8 but barely 300 pounds in college, a sub-5.0 40-yard dash. But he is a player on his fourth team in sixteen months. A tackle that the Cardinals had on their practice squad and did not invite back. The Cardinals! A right tackle in college. Will he replace Beatty in an emergency? We have 9 roster spots and 3 practice squad spots occupied with offensive linemen. While we have a lot of young draft picks and older veterans at the end of their careers, this is a lot of bodies filling up valuable space. I feel that if we were using our existing talent more wisely we would not be in this situation.

Going forward, I think Brewer has to stay as a guard. He has never looked that good at tackle, while he has played well at guard. With his strength, he is a logical successor to the expensive and older Snee at the right guard spot. Of course, we may sign Snee to a lower salary to keep him another year or two, which would leave Brewer competing at left guard with Boothe. Mosley may or may not have a good chance at a guard spot, depending on who we bring back in 2014. So if he is a good candidate to be a backup, why not have him practice as a tackle so that he can cover multiple roles? I don't see another backup tackle on the roster in 2014. Someone has to do it, and he is the most skilled option. Why must Mosley only play guard, while Goodin plays tackle, guard, and center? Goodin is a player I have been touting all preseason. He seems destined for the Boothe super-sub role. He does not look great at tackle. But he improved all preseason at center; I did not notice any poor snaps in the New England game. And he is as strong as an ox. Watch his center snaps, you never see the pocket be pushed back. If his center work continues to excel, I think he pushes Cordle or Boothe off the roster in 2014. Pugh is unlikely to be moved inside in the near future because we have no one else to play right tackle. Herman needs a lot of work if he wants to make the roster next year.

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