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Giants’ OL coach Hal Hunter believes Spencer Pulley and Nick Gates will be fine

The Giants’ offensive line coach lays out his expectations for his group on Sunday

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants’ starting offensive line has played 570 of 571 offensive snaps together.

While playing half a season’s worth of snaps as a unit might not sound like much, it’s pretty impressive that no player hasn’t even had to miss more than a play because of something like cramping or his shoe came untied.

That streak is set to come to an end this Sunday against the New York Jets as starting center Jon Halapio will miss the game with a hamstring injury, and right tackle Mike Remmers is likely to miss the game with a back injury.

“We’ll see what happens come game day and who’s up and who’s not up,” said Giants’ offensive line coach Hal Hunter. “The bottom line is every single week, everybody’s got injuries. At every position, including the offensive line, you’ve got to put five guys out there you need to win with.”

At center

With Halapio out that will move Spencer Pulley into the starting lineup, a move he is familiar with after starting most of 2018 for the Giants. Hunter isn’t concerned with changing centers.

Pulley played really good for us last year,” Hunter said. “I went back, and I watched a couple of the games from last year just to look at him and see how he played last year. He’s a smart player, he’s a tough player. He’s probably bigger and stronger than he’s ever been. I’ve kind of monitored these guys and how they’ve progressed. He’s actually about 9 to 10 pounds heavier, he’s a lot stronger. So, I expect more physical play out of him.”

If there is a concern it would be with a backup center calling the protections along the offensive line, but Pulley has experience doing that from last year. Hunter is sure he has the aptitude to make sure protections are called and executed correctly.

“He’s a cerebral player, he’s a functional player, he plays with athleticism. Honestly, we should not, I don’t expect to miss a beat,” Hunter said. “To say they are going to miss a beat, I think, is making an excuse. I expect that he will play, and demand that he will play, every bit as good as Pio did. That’s what I expect. That’s what he has to do for us when there is no excuse, ‘well he’s not…’ No, you go out and play.”

At right tackle

If Mike Remmers is unable to play — which seems likely as he hasn’t practiced this week — Nick Gates will get is first start as the primary backup offensive tackle. Gates was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska in 2018 and spent the season on injured reserve. The Giants got a good look at Gates in the preseason, playing him across the offensive line, and Hunter is confident that he is up to the job.

Hunter said, “What I like about Nick Gates as a player is, first of all, he’s a tough guy, he plays with athleticism and balance. He’s a conceptual player, he kind of does everything you ask him to do. I like everything about him.”

Of course, he hasn’t played in a regular season NFL game yet, but there’s no time like the present, and Hunter thinks he can handle what will be thrown at him — and that the experience will be good for him in the long run.

“I think he’s got the mental makeup and he’s got some physical tools,” Hunter said. “What he needs the most, as any young player, he needs to play more. He needs to play. What he did in the preseason, and all of the different positions he played– he played all five positions in the preseason. He shows a lot of promise, and I’m glad we have him.”

On the first nine games

“To say I’m pleased with the run blocking right now, I’d be lying.”

That’s a jarring thing to hear (or read) from an offensive line coach. Everyone knows that the Giants’ offensive line hasn’t performed well enough, and certainly hasn’t performed up to expectations. But to see their coach say it outright is still jarring. But it’s also a good thing. You can’t fix a problem until you acknowledge a problem exists, and Hunter was blunt in his assessment of the Giants’ blocking.

“The thing that disappoints me the most right now, normally on each play we are one block away, we have seven or eight guys doing something right and one guy is doing something wrong, and that one guy makes the play,” Hunter said.

The difference between offensive and defensive line play is that while offensive linemen have to be right every time, a defensive lineman just has to win a couple times to change a game.

“You look on the other side of the coin on defense,” Hunter said. “You could have seven guys getting blocked and one guy skirts through and makes the tackle for a one-yard gain, and you’re like what a great defensive play, that’s the problem right now. I think to run the football, which I’ve said is the hardest thing to do in the game of football against overloaded boxes, there is no room for error. It’s a lot of one on one or two on two match-ups and through your assignment and fundamentals, you have to execute.”

Hunter is committed to holding in his unit to a high standard, knowing that if they play well, it makes it easier for the rest of the offense to function. Hunter said, “I’m not pleased with the run blocking until we are rushing the ball for 120 yards a game. What’s the issue right now? It’s not preparation, it’s not want to, it’s not effort. When the rubber hits the road and you’re in that one on one fist fight with that guy upfront, do you technically outmatch him and beat him or does he beat you?”

He added that consistency and trying to win every snap is at the heart of offensive line play, that any bad play has the potential to make for a bad game.

“That’s what offensive line play is, it’s 75 one on one fist fights every single game,” Hunter said. “Same thing in pass pro, offensive linemen average 70 snaps a game. A guy like Nate Solder, we’ll go back to this past week because he has been a guy that has struggled at times. Out of 75 snaps, he probably graded positive on 65 snaps. He had one bad play, but that bad play can’t happen. Whereas a defensive lineman can get blocked for 65 plays and he gets a tackle for a loss, a pressure, and a sack and he had a great game. That’s the difference between offensive and defensive line play. Offensive line play is all about consistency, we don’t have to make a great play, we aren’t throwing a touchdown pass or making a long run. We have to be consistent play after play and block our guy. You are going to get beat, you’re not going to win every single play, but if you do get beat, it can’t be a disaster play, it can’t be play where you cut a guy loose and he comes in and smashes the quarterback, or he tackles the back, it can’t be a no-hitter. That can’t happen, that’s the consistency of offensive line play and it has to be there every single play.”