Although he’s no longer a rookie, 23-year-old Will Hernandez is still the youngest member of the Giants projected starting offensive line.
But make no mistake about it; Hernandez has come a long way from where he was this time last year when he had an “a-ha!” moment in which he realized that, despite his years playing football at some level, there was really a lot he didn’t know.
“Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t even feel like last year,” he said. “Everything’s a lot smoother for me. I understand what we gotta do; now it’s just a matter of going out there and getting it done.”
How he got here
A second-round pick in last year’s draft, Hernandez was slotted to start at left guard from Day 1.
While it wasn’t always pretty — in his first seven games, he was charged with allowing five sacks according to Pro Football Focus — in time Hernandez settled down and started to come into his own.
He finished as the second-best graded guard overall in his draft class (based on a minimum of 600 snaps), behind Indy’s Quenton Nelson. Hernandez also didn’t allow a sack over his remaining nine games last season.
More importantly, Hernandez got better each week, a fact that wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“Two big things stand out to me about Will — his awareness and his maturity,” said center Jon Halapio, who also added that he “can hear that [added awareness] in his play, passing off twists or anything like that his awareness is right there.”
While Hernandez deserves much of that credit, Halapio said that Solder really took pride in taking the young man under his wing and helping him out.
“Nate was a big key to me growing last year as a player,” Hernandez said. “He always made sure that you were on the same page, and that I was anticipating or thinking about what I should be thinking about. So, yeah, he was a major key in my development.”
Always one to continue sharpening his skill set, Hernandez has a new mentor in the classroom he can look to for advice: fellow guard Kevin Zeitler, PFF’s top-graded guard last season.
“I definitely look up to him,” Hernandez said. “After playing what, eight years in the league, obviously it’s worked for him. I try to learn from him as much as I can because he’s definitely knowledgeable and a great player.”
Zeitler has also noticed the promise Hernandez offers.
“Strong, very, very strong,” he said of his first impressions of the youngster. “He’s a good young guard. I think he can be special.”
The Giants are counting on it.