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Position preview: Giants’ offensive line is different, but will it be better?

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Dave Gettleman loves the hog mollies — has he collected some good ones?

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NFL: New York Giants-OTA
Will Hernandez
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants’ offensive line will certainly be different in 2018. There will be four new starters who either weren’t Giants in 2017 or didn’t begin the season in the lineup. The fifth, Ereck Flowers, will flip from left tackle to right tackle.

Different, yes? But is it better? That is the critical question.

Hog molly-loving general manager Dave Gettleman made it clear the first time he spoke to media after getting the job that the offensive line had to be a priority.

Has he done it? Or, at least taken significant strides toward doing so in his first offseason as Giants GM?

Pro Football Focus thinks he has. Sort of. At least incrementally. PFF rated the Giants’ line 26th out of 32 NFL teams a year ago. The PFF preseason ranking for the Giants’ 2018 line? Twenty-fifth, an improvement of one whole spot. PFF says:

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:

Left Tackle: Nate Solder, 75.7 overall grade

Left Guard: Will Hernandez, 91.4* (2017 college grade)

Center: Jon Halapio, 44.0

Right Guard: Patrick Omameh, 53.6

Right Tackle: Ereck Flowers, 51.5

2017 season-end rank: 26th (+1)

After making Nate Solder the highest paid tackle in football and drafting Will Hernandez in the second-round, the Giants offensive line has to be better than last year. Neither of those guys are sure-fire miracle workers though as Solder himself gave up 51 pressures a season ago (Ereck Flowers has averaged 58 a season for his career).

I have to admit that, anecdotally, I think that’s harsh. Understandable, but harsh. You can argue about the talent after the Giants let Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg and D.J. Fluker go. To be honest, I’m also not well-versed in every offensive line around the league so team-to-team offensive line comparisons are difficult.

Let’s break down what the Giants did to re-structure that offensive line and it will, hopefully, come together.

Free agency

Signed: LT Nate Solder, RG Patrick Omameh, OG Chris Scott, OG Zac Kerin

Lost: G/T Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, OG D.J. Fluker

When you need to re-construct a group that, as a whole, you don’t believe is good enough you have to start by assessing what you have and determining what is worth keeping. The Giants decided that Pugh and Richburg, who are good but not great players, weren’t worth the prices they received on the open market. They decided that Fluker, an effervescent personality who played well in a short span last season, wasn’t what they were looking for.

Not that his opinion matters any longer, but it was interesting to hear ex-coach Ben McAdoo say recently that when it came to the offensive line the Giants “let the right guys leave.”

To a point, he’s right. Pugh got a five-year, $45.025 million deal from the Arizona Cardinals with $13 million guaranteed. Honestly, he’s a good but not great player with a concerning injury history that makes it difficult to build, or rebuild, with him as a centerpiece. Richburg is a good player, but he got $47.5 million with $16.5 million guaranteed from the San Francisco 49ers. The Giants signed Brett Jones, also a good player, for $2.914 million. Give Pugh or Richburg big-money deals, Solder isn’t a Giant and Flowers or a rookie is probably at left tackle.

So, what do Solder and Omameh bring to the line?

Solder, with a pedigree as a multi-time Super Bowl champion and a professional attitude that makes it important to him to help the players around him, has become the line’s veteran leader. That is something the Giants have lacked in recent years. Solder has already been a positive influence on Flowers and second-round pick Will Hernandez.

Head coach Pat Shurmur on Solder:

“He’s a true professional. We talk often about leadership and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you don’t have to be anything extraordinary and you certainly don’t have to be the loudest guy in the room. Sometimes the guy that doesn’t say as much leads better than the guy that talks a lot, and Nate is a very steady force. We all know what he’s done as a player. As you get to know him, you get to appreciate what a tremendous person he is and I think all that will help us as we move forward.”

Omameh is a former undrafted free agent who has built a career with a “lunch pail” work ethic that should provide a good example for his teammates.

“Tough, hard-nosed, grind it out, gritty, get in your face tough guy,” was how Hunter described Omameh. “Also, he’s a man, grown-up, adult, dependable, quality person.”

2018 NFL Draft

Selected: OG Will Hernandez (Round 2, 34th overall)

UDFA to watch: OC Evan Brown

If the Giants weren’t going to select a quarterback No. 2 overall, they could have opted to select Quenton Nelson, the Notre Dame star many scouts considered the best guard prospect in decades. They chose running back Saquon Barkley and crossed their fingers that they would still be able to find quality offensive line help later.

They landed Hernandez, considered by many the second-best guard in the draft class, at No. 34.

“One of the great gifts you can get in the draft is when value meets need and we had a solid first round grade on Willie, so we’re thrilled to get him. He’s exactly what we’re looking for. He’s a power blocker, he’s tough, he finishes strong,” GM Dave Gettleman said when the Giants made the selection. “He played for an 0-13 team last year and if you look at him in game 13, you know the kid has pride, he has a tremendous amount of pride because he played as hard in that game as he played in game one. You know I love the hog mollies and this guy really has a lot of talent. He is a very athletic kid for his size. He can run, he can pull and he plays very smart. I’m thrilled we got him.”

Gettleman also said Hernandez can be “a little cranky,” which he proved in the spring by getting into a number of dust-ups with teammates despite not being in pads. Of those fights, Hernandez said “they just happen and I move on ... they’re my brothers and brothers fight once in a while.”

What will it add up to?

Back to the question we started with — will it be better, or just different?

We won’t, of course, truly be able to answer that question until the regular season starts. Still, the belief here is that this group “should” be better. Solder may not be a great player, but he upgrades left tackle. For all his faults, Flowers upgrades right tackle. Hernandez and Omameh should be solid at the guards. The big question will be at center, where Jones and Jon Halapio are competing.

The other question, of course is depth. The Giants appear to have plenty of it at guard. The loser of the Jones-Halapio competition can play guard. Scott, Kerin, John Greco and Jerry Jerry are all players with significant NFL experience. The question will be at tackle, where the Giants really have only Chad Wheeler in reserve.