After two days and thousands of words looking back at the draft and development struggles for the New York Giants in recent years, we finally get to the really important stuff. We finally look forward to what the Giants can do in order to get better production from their draft classes. The easy answer is to draft better players. The reality, however, is more complex than that.
It's a new day in New Jersey. There is a new head coach in Ben McAdoo. There are eight new assistant coaches. There will be a new strength and conditioning routine, a new practice schedule, and new techniques being employed in an effort to get players to reach their maximum potential.
The front office remains the same, but let's hope that the fresh air surrounding the Giants, and the fact that McAdoo says he and Reese are "tied together at the hip," will help the Giants be more successful in drafting and developing players, and ultimately in winning football games.
Former coach Tom Coughlin made it apparent Wednesday night that despite the organization's stance that they reach decisions by consensus he wasn't happy that the massive investment being made on defense this offseason did not happen while he was at the helm.
Let's focus for now on five of those new assistant coaches, and the key roles they will play.
Who's to blame for failure of young players?
The Giants haven't gotten enough from their draft classes in recent years. Is Jerry Reese to blame? Tom Coughlin? The players themselves.
Mike Solari (OL)
We talked at length on Wednesday about the inability to get production from offensive linemen drafted in the late rounds. Also about the idea that the Giants have two young linemen, 2015 first-round pick Ereck Flowers and 2015 seventh-round pick Bobby Hart, they are counting on. Mike Solari will now be the guy entrusted to nurture them.
Solari, 61, is entering his 28th in the NFL. In 2015, he was the Green Bay Packers' assistant offensive line coach. Solari has coached with the Dallas Cowboys, Phoenix Cardinals, the 49ers (twice), Kansas City Chiefs (for who he was the offensive coordinator in 2006-07), and Seattle Seahawks. Before his one season in Green Bay, Solari coached the offensive line in San Francisco (2010-14) and Seattle (2008-09).
When the Giants announced his hiring, head coach Ben McAdoo spoke optimistically about Solari's ability to work with young players.
"Mike Solari, I've admired his work from afar for a long time," McAdoo said. "He had a chance to come from this system last year. He's one of the best in the business. I look forward to seeing what he brings to the table in developing our young players."
Solari was in Kansas City when the Chiefs make right tackle Victor Riley a 1998 first-round pick. Riley went on to an eight-year career as a starter. He also helped develop John Tait, a tackle who the Chiefs drafted in the first round in 2000. Tait had a 10-year career as a starting tackle.
With the Seattle Seahawks, Solari worked with 2009 first-round pick Max Unger, who is now a two-time Pro Bowl center.
Solari worked with a number of quality linemen while with the 49ers. Among them were guard Mike Iupati and left tackle Joe Staley. Perhaps encouraging to Giants fans should be Alex Boone, who joined the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2010, then became a full-time starter in 2012. Boone signed a four-year, $26.8 million free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason.
Former NFL scout and current Scouting Academy Director Dan Hatman said he was "optimistic" about what Solari would bring to the Giants.
"That could be a huge step in the right direction."
Adam Henry (WR)
Henry is best known for having been the wide receiver coach at LSU when a guy named Odell Beckham Jr. was starring there. The relationship between the 43-year-old Henry and Beckham night be important, but McAdoo said it isn't why Henry got the gig with the Giants."Adam Henry has worked his way up from a small school, I admire that about him," McAdoo said. "He's done a tremendous job working with talented players and we're fortunate to have him."
"He's earned the job. Anyone that thinks that about him [that he got hired because of Beckham] hasn't seen his work. The way you look at it, he's worked his way up from a small school and has had an opportunity to work in a lot of big programs, teaching a lot of talented players and has gotten a lot out of those players. We expect that to continue here."
Henry's working relationship with Beckham is a positive. So, too, is the fact that he has worked with small-school players (McNeese State) who likely needed more fundamental guidance than someone like Beckham. The fact that Henry also played the position, having had training camp tryout with the New Orleans Saints from 1994-96, also has to be seen as a positive.
Understand that you don't need to have played a position to coach it. Sometimes, though, playing experience may be a help in what you are able to impart to young players like Geremy Davis, Myles white, Ben Edwards, or Anthony Dable.
Patrick Graham (DL)
As much time as we have spent focusing on the failure to get production from offensive linemen drafted in the late rounds, the Giants have also had some difficulty developing defensive linemen. Jason Pierre-Paul was an All-Pro in 2011 but has never again reached that level. Linval Joseph was good for the Giants, but just had the best year of his career for the Minnesota Vikings. Damontre Moore came and went. Jay Bromley has yet to justify his status as a third-round pick in 2014. Marvin Austin was a colossal, and damaging, flop.
Graham, 37, spent the last seven seasons on the New England Patriots' coaching staff learning from Bill Belichick. He spent one year as a coaching assistant and another as a defensive assistant before becoming the team's linebackers coach in 2011. Graham coached the Patriots' defensive line in 2012-13 before returning to the linebackers for the 2014-15 seasons.
"Patrick Graham, he's a guy that cut his teeth working up from some tough jobs," McAdoo said. "He's knowledgeable, has some grit to him, and a great personality for the room. We feel that those guys will rally around him and he'll have the chance to develop them."
Bill McGovern (LB)
The Giants' linebackers have, umm, not been as good in recent years as anyone hoped they would be. The 53-year-old McGovern, who was linebackers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles the past three seasons, is now in charge of getting better play from that group. McGovern was also at Boston College from 2000-2012 and worked with Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly.
"He has a ton of coaching experience," McAdoo said. "He's very familiar with the division. He's going to bring great energy to the building, great energy to the staff room. That usually filters down to the locker room. I look forward to working with Bill."
Can McGovern turn Devon Kennard into the great player he has hinted he could be? Can he maximize the abilities of the rest of the linebackers? We will find out.
Aaron Wellman (Strength & Conditioning)
You can't develop players or get production from them if they can't get on the practice field or aren't healthy enough to suit up and play on game days. That makes this perhaps the assistant coaching hire Giants fans are most interested in. After three straight seasons of record-setting numbers of injuries and an unacceptable history of injuries dating farther back than that, the Giants replaced long-time strength and conditioning coach Jerry Palmieri with Aaron Wellman, who spent last year as an assistant S&C coach at Notre Dame and has never worked in the NFL.
As one evaluator I spoke to said of the Giants' recent history of Injuries "that's not luck, that's a trend."
Wellman, 41, has 20 years of experience as a strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate level. He was S&C coach at Michigan from 2011-14 and has held the same posts at Both Ball State and San Diego State. Current Giant Nat Berhe was a player at San Diego State when Wellman was there and speaks highly of him.
"Coach Aaron Wellman turned me into a beast. I'm so hyped to have him with the Giants, just watch that man work.''
Palmieri, the strength coach during Tom Coughlin's 12-year tenure as head coach, was considered more of a traditional Olympic style strength coach. Wellman, it seems, won't be that.
The Giants have already revamped their weight room and McAdoo promised recently that players will see a difference in how the Giants go about the strength and conditioning phase of the offseason program.
"We wanted to be a little more forward-thinking down there ... Little bit more movement-based, little more stick and move, like you play the game. Gonna reflect the way we practice as well, with that mentality," McAdoo said.
Wellman will be leading the new approach.
"Aaron's a guy that is a forward-thinker," McAdoo said. "He's advanced in the sports performance arena, but he also has an edge to him. He can be tough when he has to be. That's hard to find in this business these days. He's got a nice combination of both. We feel that he'll provide a nice lift to our program."
He needs to be, because as we said earlier you can't develop players who can't get on the practice field.