When it comes to the New York Giants, the top concern among fans and observers of the team is the offensive line.
As it so happens, the Giants’ two best offensive linemen, Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh, took the podium to talk to the assembled media as the team arrived for camp. Pugh is generally considered to be the leader of the offensive line group, and he was asked by the media about a variety of topics, including how he feels about the offensive line at the start of camp.
“There’s a lot of optimism,” he said, “a lot of excitement. We’ve added a lot of good guys to the team, so there’s definitely a lot of excitement. I remember driving over here this morning and just like a kid on Christmas. I mean, we’ve got a lot of things to look forward to this year.”
The Giants need their offensive line to be better for their offense as a whole to improve in 2017. While he would likely never say otherwise, Pugh did express confidence that will happen.
“We have more experience playing with each other,” Pugh said. “I think growing pains, I think some of it is that we didn’t play well enough so you learn from that. I can speak personally from that. Going from my second year to my third year, I got embarrassed out there some times, and coming back with that drive, that determination to go out and prove that I do belong in the NFL and I do belong in this league, that drives me to this day. So I think a lot of guys, you know, you gotta look in the mirror and say ‘I wasn’t as good as I needed to be last year’. And that starts with me personally. I need to be better, I need to stay healthy. I can’t miss five games, like I did last year, that’s something I’m looking for, to go out there and play all 16 games this year. And I’m looking forward to being successful.”
Pugh wasn’t surprised that the Giants didn’t make tremendous personnel changes.
“I think it shows that they [the Giants’ front office] have confidence in our ability to get better,” Pugh said. “I know we have to get better, everyone knows that we have to get better, to run the ball better. I think a bunch of different moves we made throughout the off-season will help us. There’s competition at the offensive line position right now, you bring in a guy, D.J. Fluker, who is a 12th over-all draft pick [11th, actually], you’re going to add competition to the room. So that’s exciting, that’s going to make us better. Because if you’re not putting your best production on the field, then someone is going to replace you. I think that’s not even a question.”
The words “Super Bowl” have been tossed around more this off-season in relation to the Giants than in previous years, and it’s something Pugh is confident talking about.
“This is my fifth camp, and I think this is the best team we’ve had on paper. But at the end of the day, if you have a team on paper, that’s not going out there and winning games on Sunday. We have to go there and put in the work, and go out there and produce. I’m excited with the type of guys we have, the character we have in the room, the coaches we have. I think top to bottom this is an exciting team. And once you’ve been to the play-offs, you get that taste and know how good those teams are, we’ve beaten the teams that have been in the play-offs, and that gives us confidence.”
The biggest thing holding Pugh back from being one of the top guards in the NFL has been his health, having missed games in each of the last three years. When he is healthy, he is excellent, and he was asked if there’s anything he is doing differently to help stay on the field.
“I’m doing things different. ... You know how McAdoo is always talking about making changes, looking back, where can you improve, where can you get better? So, I’m doing that same thing individually.
“I’m working on my nutrition, making sure that I’m taking care of my nutrition throughout the year, doing the different meals and stuff.
“I’m 312 right now. 310, 315 right now is where I’m gonna be, where I’m gonna fluctuate. It’s just making sure that I keep my weight up throughout the season. Making sure I’m doing the right things, eating-wise, to remain healthy. You guys know how it is, when you get through a long day, you’re [in] Week 15, you’re coming back and you just want to eat whatever. Sometimes you’re not making the healthiest choices. So as an individual doing that and just doing whatever I can to take care of my body and stay on the field.”
While many were predicting, or hoping for, a big upheaval on the Giants’ offensive line, the team instead opted to show faith that continued development of the young players and the chemistry of the unit as a whole would improve the unit
“That’s everything. Offensive line is the only position where all five guys have to play as one,” Pugh said. “The defensive line, three guys get blocked, one guy gets there and gets the sack, and the whole defensive line looks good. Offensive line, four guys do there job, one guy gives up a sack, it doesn’t look good. One guy misses a block and the runner gets tackled for a loss, that’s on us. So for us, continuity, and that trust, and that camaraderie is everything. And that’s unlike any position, that’s why offensive line is so unique and no-one really understands the nuances of offensive line play. Unless you’ve really really studied it, or dedicated a lot of time to it, it’s one of those positions where ... You’ve got to take my word for it, I guess (more laughter).”