Benching rookie offensive lineman Weston Richburg, if that is indeed what happens Sunday night, is not my favorite decision the New York Giants have ever made. I made that much clear Thursday when Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com first reported that the second-round pick, a starter at left guard in the first 10 games, was not going to be part of a re-shuffled line vs. the Dallas Cowboys.
My basic point was this: The Giants are 3-7, going nowhere except home for another long vacation after Week 17 of the regular season. The last six games of the season provide an excellent opportunity to get young players who are expected to be part of the team's future valuable experience. I still believe that.
Still, reflecting on the probability that Richburg won't start Sunday, I do understand the decision. Completely. Let me explain.
Richburg, drafted in the second round (43rd overall) was never supposed to be a starting guard for the Giants in the first place. He was selected as their center of the future, and only a confluence of several events the Giants had not counted on thrust Richburg into the left guard job.
- Chris Snee, the guy the Giants hoped would start one final season at right guard, couldn't make it to the starting line and retired.
- Prized free-agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz, who would have likely manned left guard, ended up short-term IR. He will finally debut this week. At right tackle.
- Brandon Mosley, who had first crack at the right guard job after Snee retired, hurt his back right before the regular season began. Richburg had outplayed him, anyway.
- The various injuries thrust veteran John Jerry, who has never played left guard, into the lineup. Playing him at right guard is the only thing that made sense.
- The Giants saw enough of James Brewer in 2013 to know that they didn't want to go down that road again.
All of that left the job to Richburg. GM Jerry Reese said when he drafted Richburg out of Colorado State that he had the flexibility to play guard. I think Reese envisioned that being in an emergency, not as a starter from Week 1. Which is how things turned out.
Richburg has shown two things in his rookie season.
- He is a smart, talented, fiesty player with a nasty streak who is going to be a good NFL offensive lineman for a number of years if he remains healthy.
- He's not a starting NFL guard, at least not right now.
Richburg simply isn't big enough or strong enough to be a dominant NFL guard. He played well for a stretch early in the season, but has struggled mightily during the five-game losing streak, earning negative Pro Football Focus grades in each of those games.
The Giants list Richburg at 6-foot-3, 298 pounds. That's big by most standards, but not by the standards of NFL guards. Richburg is dwarfed by Schwartz (6-6, 340), Mosley (6-5, 320), Jerry (6-5, 340), Adam Snyder (6-6, 325) and Brewer (6-6, 330). At his size he simply has a difficult time anchoring or getting any real push in run-blocking. That is one of the reasons he has a -7.9 run-blocking score from Pro Football Focus. Only Jerry's -11.5 is worse on the Giants. The poor interior run blocking is the biggest reason the Giants have not been able to run consistently most of the season.
As a center, perhaps Richburg's lack of bulk wouldn't show up so much. There, you are often a help blocker in pass protection or have help from a guard when facing a three-man front.
OK, you're saying, we know it wasn't supposed to be this way and Richburg isn't an ideal guard. At this point, though, doesn't it make sense to let him continue playing to gain experience?
Well, yes, but put yourself in Tom Coughlin's shoes for a minute.
Almost all NFL coaches have a very narrow focus. They are concerned first and foremost with this week. This game. This opponent. Coughlin, his staff and his players are playing for their jobs right now. To justify keeping their jobs they have to win some games. The only one Coughlin can control today is this game on Sunday night. He, offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and offensive line coach Pat Flaherty will field the offensive line they think gives them the best chance to win on Sunday night. Not next year. Not next week. Not for the remaining six games. Sunday night. Because right now they are concerned about winning Sunday night, that's all.
So, I get it. I also think it may not end up being a bad thing for Richburg.
The young man's future in the NFL, and with the Giants, almost certainly has to be at center. I've been asked multiple times why the Giants don't just slide Richburg to center and get on with it, since Walton isn't exactly a Pro Bowler. It isn't that simple. My guess is Richburg probably has practiced very sparingly at center, if at all, since being installed at left guard after Schwartz' injury. You can't ask him, as a rookie, to take over that job with no practice.
Perhaps removing him from the lineup gives the Giants the opportunity to give him practice reps at center, which is to his long-term benefit. Maybe it enables them to re-insert him in the lineup at center before the season is over. Perhaps it also allows Richburg to attack the weight room more vigorously, another thing which should benefit Richburg and the Giants going forward.
I think we can trust that the Giants understand that Richburg is part of their future, part of the long-term solution on an offensive line that remains a work in progress. Just because he is apparently getting a timeout doesn't mean the Giants are giving up on him.