Much of the focus on the New York Giants offense over the offseason has been on the starting offensive line. After all, the 2018 version of the Giants’ line was one of the worst of Eli Manning’s career and fielding a good line has been one of the points of emphasis for the Giants over the last year and a half.
However, the quality of the offensive line isn’t just tied to the starters. Giants fans got spoiled with the line of David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie when whole seasons together. As we have learned since then, it rarely works out that way and the depth along the offensive line is important. Even a great line can turn into a poor one with one or two untimely injuries if there is too sharp of a drop-off in the depth behind the starters.
Fortunately, we are in the best time of the year to get a look at offensive line depth. So it makes sense to take a moment to look at the depth behind the Giants’ offensive tackles, and get a bit more familiar in two players we normally don’t see much of — Nick Gates and Chad Slade.
When the night was over for the Giants’ first team offensive line it was second-year lineman Nick Gates who came on the field to play left tackle. The Giants signed Gates as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska following the 2018 NFL draft and tried him at guard prior to a foot injury landing him on the injured reserve for the 2018 season. A year later Gates is back and now the Giants’ are trying Gates at tackle, a position at which he started for three years at Nebraska (one year at right tackle, two at left).
Strength: Foot speed and mobility
Gates’ ability to move freely on the outside, kick-sliding smoothly and mirror in pass protection, stood out on tape at Nebraska. For the most part that mobility and athletic ability showed up on tape against the Bears defenders Gates faced in pass protection.
Focusing on the left tackle position, Gates easily gets out of his stance and into his pass set. His feet are smooth through his kick-slide, though he doesn’t quite have that almost “gliding” footwork you see from truly great pass protectors.
Moving up from the ground, he shows a solid knee bend, sitting into his stance rather than playing with straight legs and a bent waist. Playing with a good knee bend and pad level is important for all players, but vitally so for players like Gates who don’t have overwhelming power on their side. His hands do get a little wild through his kick-slide, falling low and wide, which limits his punch and lets the defender make first contact. However, he is active in trying to fend off the rusher’s move and trying to gain leverage and control over the defender.
If there is a major flaw to this rep it is that Gates turns his hips perpendicular to the line of scrimmage before he gets past the level of the quarterback. By turning his hips early it makes it more difficult to absorb the rush and run the defender around the quarterback,
Gates isn’t yet consistent with his pass protection and there are instances where his movement erodes — such as when he flips his hips a bit early in the above play. That also showed up to disastrous effect on the sack of Alex Tanney in the third quarter, when Gates’ lower body fell out of sync with his upper body and the defender was able to easily shed him and sack Tanney. But for the most part, Gates has much better movement skills than you expect to see from an undrafted tackle. He isn’t without flaws, but he usually doesn’t fall into the category of “heavy-legged waist bender.”
Weakness: Play strength
If Gates’ movement skills are the strength of his game, then his ability to stand up to pass rushers and play with power is the weakness. Gates struggles when forced to set a firm edge or meet strength with strength.
This play is obviously a good one for the Giants, but it reveals the big weakness in Gates’ game — his play strength.
The Bears’ edge comes on a straight ahead bull rush and while Gates doesn’t do anything egregiously wrong, he simply doesn’t have the strength to anchor and absorb the power from the defender. Once again Gates shows low and wide hands, letting the defender into his chest, gaining leverage and control. That is far from ideal, but Gates should stand up to a rush from a player who is giving up 50 pounds in body weight, but unfortunately Gates finds himself walked back into the quarterback. He is able to stop the defender’s momentum just in time to keep from hitting the QB, and by that time the ball is safely released, but had the play been a bit longer in developing the outcome could have been very different.
Slade replaced Mike Remmers at right tackle once the second-team offensive line took the field. Slade came into the league when the Houston Texans signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn in 2015. The Giants signed him to a reserve/futures deal in January of 2019 after spending the previous three years on the Texans’ practice squad (Slade was injured his rookie season).
Slade presents an interesting contrast at right tackle to Gates at left tackle. Where Gates’ game depends more on mobility, Slade’s is based mainly on his power. He is able to move, but his feet are noticeably less smooth than Gates’ are when kick-sliding. However, he also has the ability to stand rushers up and doesn’t get pushed backwards when contact is made.
This play was made by the right guard, right tackle, and tight end.
The block by Slade, the right tackle, is almost textbook. To quote the mantra of OL coach, and friend of Big Blue View, Duke Mannyweather: “Strike, Leverage, Drive, Finish”.
Slade fires out of his stance, exploding into the defensive end and winning the leverage battle from first contact. He gets his hands inside the defenders’ shoulder pads (inside leverage), keeps his hips and pads down (mechanical leverage), and concentrates everything on the defender’s right shoulder (half-man leverage). All of that, combined with his natural play strength, lets Slade put the defender on skates and drive him backwards while turning him to the side, and taking control of him. The tight end pitches in on the double team and together the two players have no problem taking him out of the play.
This goes from a good run to a very nice 9-yard run thanks to the second level block from right guard Victor Salako, who creates the crease up the middle, keeps the gap from being filled, and gives Paul Perkins the room to accelerate and finish his run.
As stated above, Gates’ feet are obviously rough. Those struggles on the ground level make for problems up the kinetic chain and show up when he has to deal with athletic rushers.
This is just not a pretty rep for Slade in pass protection.
With the offense facing a third-and-11 situation he seems to expect speed to the outside and over-commits to not getting beat on an outside rush. However, that opens the right B-gap wide and the defender has a pretty easy inside move.
Contrasting Slade’s movement with Gates’ above, he labors much more in his kick-slide. His feet are heavy and he seems to need a fair bit of body English to aid his movement. That manifests itself in wild arm movements and the player himself being almost completely off-balance. Ideally a balanced kick-slide would let the tackle change directions quickly if needed — as in the Mirror Drill at the scouting combine. But here Slade struggles to get width and depth in his pass set and it makes him vulnerable to the more athletic rusher.
So are Gates and Slade destined for roster spots? It’s probably still too soon to say. They both have their problems, but they both also have strengths in their respective games that can be built upon. And given that both have the ability to play both tackle and guard, it is entirely possible that the Giants will go into the season with one, or both, on their 53-man roster to provide depth at both positions. Perhaps even most in their favor, both players seem to have the kind of effort level that appeals to coaches and that will likely keep them in the running.
That being said, the Giants should, and will, keep an eye on the depth charts and roster moves of the 31 other teams. Surprises happen and sometimes a good player can be the victim of a numbers game or slip through the cracks. Neither Gates nor Slade should stand in the way if a legitimate upgrade happens to shake loose during final cutdowns.