The New York Giants' offensive line was awful in 2013, with even ex-Giants guard Chris Snee admitting in an appearance on Pro Football Talk Live that this year's group "can't be much worse." The key to how much better this year's group will be. Snee says it's left tackle Will Beatty.
"The key will be the health of Will Beatty," Snee said. "He's a guy who two years ago had a great year for us."
Beatty won't play Saturday night when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers. Head coach Tom Coughlin said recently that the plan all along has been for Beatty, recovering from the broken leg he suffered in the 2013 season finale, to debut next weekend vs. the Indianapolis Colts.
Since the beginning of training camp Beatty has been more active than was expected, taking a high volume of reps throughout. The urgency Beatty feels comes through in his words:
"I'm not pushing just to be okay," Beatty said. "I have to get back to not only where I was last year, but also improve. I have to still improve, I have to still climb. It's not about getting back to where we were last year, because that's not going to be good enough by any means."
How has the leg responded to the work?
"There were moments where the leg was like, 'Okay, what are you doing?'" Beatty said. "I'm not saying every practice play was perfect. It's going to be sore. But you can push through it. You can work through it. So it's just building up that strength so I can get that drive off the line. I feel like I'm getting quicker in my steps. I feel like I'm getting stronger. I feel like I'm focusing on the play and not my leg."
Beatty, Giants fans will recall, was outstanding in 2012. He played like a franchise left tackle, compiling a +19.0 Pro Football Focus grade, allowing only three sacks and earning a five-year, $37.5-million contract with $19 million guaranteed. Then, in 2013, he was awful. He had a -11.2 PFF grade, including -19.9 in pass-blocking, and surrendered 13 sacks. He added injury to insult when he broke his leg against the Washington Redskins.
Which player is Beatty? The Giants believe the real Beatty is the one they saw in 2012.
"He's not that  player, he was a different player," said offensive line coach Pat Flaherty. "To be able to coach somebody, he has to be out there on the practice field. If he's not practicing the day to day drills, then that sets you back. Which affects your techniques on Sundays. The flaws are magnified. That's what happened. This year, we'll see. He's attacking and making sure it doesn't happen again."
For the Giants to be successful, Beatty can't repeat his 2013 performance.