One of the fascinating things to watch for the New York Giants this season will be the offensive line, and one of the reasons will be the role of third-year man Justin Pugh. The Giants appear intent on moving Pugh from right tackle to left guard. Let's look at Pugh as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
2014 Season in Review
Pugh had an up-and-down second season in the NFL. He suffered the worst game of his two seasons Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles, surrendering four sacks and compiling a -5.3 Pro Football Focus rating. To make things worse, Pugh is a Pennsylvania native and the game was in Philly with a plethora of Pugh's family and friends in attendance.
To Pugh's credit, he did not allow another sack in the final eight games he played. He did miss two games with a calf injury. Pugh finished the season with a -2.6 Pro Football Focus grade (+3.8 pass blocking and -3.6 run blocking).
As a rookie, Pugh had compiled a +1.9 PFF score, allowing five sacks for the entire season.
2015 Season Outlook
Pugh's move from the right tackle spot he played his first two seasons to left guard has been well-documented. After showing some annoyance at the end of last season when asked about a potential position change, Pugh has embraced the move inside now that it is reality.
"Wherever I have to play is where I am going to play. Right now I am at left guard and I love it," Pugh said this spring.
Pugh said one of the big adjustments at guard is having "a guy that is right on you."
He was asked what he loves about the position.
"Having the ability to get free shots on guys, going up to the linebackers, I can utilize my ability to pull. I am embracing it. I am going to be the best left guard that I can be and help produce for this team. We have to run the ball and we have to be stout," Pugh said.
Will Pugh actually end up a left guard, or could a move back out to right tackle be in the cards?
Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty hinted during minicamp that despite Pugh spending the entire spring at guard putting him at right tackle is not completely out of the question.
"I think no matter where I was going to be at I was going to play well this year. I am playing left guard and I am going to play well this year. That is my goal."
Pugh spent the offseason training differently than he had in the past. NJ Advance Media explains:
Much of the rest of the offseason reconfiguration was done with an extended trip out west to MMA Athletics, a full-time training camp designed solely for professional athletes by FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer. It was there that Pugh wrestled, grappled and worked relentlessly with, among others, MMA legend Randy Couture and Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson. (Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. also worked out at Glazer's Unbreakable Performance Center at some point during the offseason.)
At Unbreakable, they left out the chokes, but did plenty of greco-wrestling and boxing. Pugh believes the wrestling helped with body-on-body, hip-under-hip contact, and will benefit in trying to win the leverage battle that occurs on every snap for a lineman. The boxing helped train his hands to remain high and inside the body.
These are exactly the things he was hoping to accomplish, especially with a move to guard knowingly on the horizon.
"[The goal was] trying to work on my hands. My hands were the biggest thing I was trying to accomplish," said Pugh, who plans to return to Unbreakable for three more weeks before the start of training camp. "At guard it's even more so and you're fighting right now and it's body on body work inside. That's why it's great.
"The wrestling is going to help me even more because, at tackle, it's a lot of working in space. At guard, you have a body right on you, right across from you, and you have to get your hands on them now. That is going to help me out."
Why have the Giants moved Pugh to guard?
"Justin has very good feet, he is a very good athlete, has tremendous lower body strength and when you get closer to the ball at the guard position, you are going to be blocking bigger people, so I think that is going to be an advantage for us," Flaherty said. "He will be able to block those people."
Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo also weighed in:
"He is a football-smart guy. He is a hard worker. He brings a nice level of physicality that we like. Some grit to the position right there. It is probably a position that doesn't get as much glamour as a tackle, but when you are on the left side, it is important position to protect the backside of the quarterback away from his vision," McAdoo said. "The left guard position is especially important because a lot goes on there on the inside. When one becomes two and two becomes three and when zero becomes one and all the movement happens, you have to make quick decisions and we feel Justin can do that."
Pugh's transition will be interesting to watch. Unless, of course, he ends up back at right tackle.