Before the preseason began, New York Giants starting center J.D. Walton had not played in a football game since suffering a severe ankle injury during the fourth game of the 2012 season. At the time, Walton was the starting center for the Denver Broncos.
"It's been a long road," Walton said. "Being able to get back to this position is awesome."
The position the 27-year-old Walton finds himself in is trying to be the rock, the guiding influence on an offensive line that has to this point been in constant flux all around him.
Walton was a surprising free-agent choice by general manager Jerry Reese to fill the Giants void at center. He returned to the Broncos in the middle of last season but had no place as Denver was en route to reaching the Super Bowl. He was eventually waived and claimed by the Washington Redskins, but never appeared in a game. Despite the inactivity, the Giants handed Walton a two-year, $6 million contract with $2.5 million guaranteed.
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Is Walton part of the problem with an offensive line that is struggling to build cohesion? Or, is he ultimately part of the solution?
The bet here is that Walton, provided he stays healthy, can be part of the solution. Truth is, he has to be. Weston Richburg was drafted in the second round to be the center of the future. With Geoff Schwartz out for a considerable period of time with a dislocated toe, Richburg has become the left guard of the present. Walton then has to be able to handle the center position.
If you judge purely from Pro Football Focus grades you would say Walton has not been impressive thus far. He has played 107 snaps over four preseason games and has a PFF grade of -5.5, third-worst among Giants offensive players.
Walton allowed three hurries vs. the New York Jets on Friday, but those are the only pressures attributed to him thus far. Walton played 40 snaps against the Jets, the most he has played thus far, and feels good about where he is entering the season.
"I feel like ankle-wise, I am fine. It's just knocking off all the rust, fixing things watching the film and fixing things I need to get fixed and move on from there," Walton said. "After that third preseason game, I am ready to go."
Will Walton justify the faith Reese and the Giants have placed in him? The Giants desperately need the answer to that question to be yes.