It takes more than a few superstars or top-tier players to win in the NFL. It takes a complete roster with reserves who can contribute on special teams and fill in capably when needed.
The Giants’ depth at wide receiver is already being tested, and will be tested even further early in the season if the four-game suspension of Golden Tate is upheld.
We have, however, already talked at length about the wide receiver position during the early portion of training camp. Let’s talk about another area where depth is a concern — the offensive line.
We know that the starting group should be the best the Giants have fielded in several years. As far as the backups, though, the only player who is really close to a lock to make the roster is the loser of the center competition betweeen Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley. My $.02 is that means Pulley, but we’ll see.
Let’s look at some of the players fighting for those backup jobs. We will break this into tow categories — tackles and center/guards.
Chad Wheeler started 14 games at right tackle last season, and has experience on both sides. Reality is, though, Wheeler wasn’t good in 2018. His best attribute, quite simply, is that he wasn’t Ereck Flowers. Wheeler could end up as the swing tackle by default, but that’s not really a comforting thought.
Brian Mihalik is a 6-foot-9 26-year-old who played in five games for the Giants last season. He was a defensive lineman at Boston College. Coach Pat Shurmur was with Mihalik in 2015 when both were part of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mihalik filled in at left tackle for Nate Solder in the spring, and has continued to get a handful of reps with the first team during training camp. Mihalik, who has been considered a developmental player in the past, played some right tackle for the Giants last season.
“He’s doing some good things, he’s got good length to be playing left tackle,” offensive line coach Hal Hunter said of Mihalik. “He’s been playing some in the first group when we’ve been spelling Nate a little bit, he’s done a good job.”
Paul Adams was signed by the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri. He played right tackle in college and his NFL.com scouting report says “his best projection might be guard with emergency right tackle value as a middle rounder. He’s OK in space but better suited as a backup guard with the low-end starter upside in a gap scheme rushing attack.”
The Giants, though, have been playing Adams at left tackle throughout training camp. Not sure, honestly, if that is out of simple necessity or if they really believe he can hold up on that side. Something to watch.
George Asafo-Adjei was selected in the seventh round of the draft. Big George was getting an occasional first-team rep before getting a concussion, which has caused him to miss several practices. The difficulty of keeping Asafo-Adjei on the roster as a reserve is that he is right tackle only.
Chad Slade is really a guard, but with Asafo-Adjei out and Wheeler also missing a couple of practices, the 27-year-old has been getting some reps at right tackle. So, I will include him here. Slade is a former undrafted free agent who started three games for the Houston Texans in 2017.
Nick Gates was signed by the Giants as an undrafted free agent a year ago, and spent the season on injured reserve. A college tackle at Nebraska, the Giants moved him inside to guard. He has been working as the second-team left guard this summer, and was the first player Hunter mentioned when asked about depth options on the offensive line.
“Nick Gates, he was actually playing really good last year, and he played at Nebraska then he got that foot injury. He was on IR, then he came back and was on practice squad, then he was on IR the whole year,” Hunter said. “He’s come back, and he really stepped up once he put the pads on. He’s big, strong, tough, smart, and I see why he played at Nebraska, he’s a Nebraska-type player, so he’s done a pretty good job.”
Evan Brown spent all of last season on the 53-man roster after making the team as an undrafted free agent. He is really a center, but has been working at right guard throughout camp. It is hard to gauge exactly what the Giants think of the former SMU center.
“Evan Brown is still fighting in there,” Hunter said. “He’s been a little bit out of position because again, he’s kind of the third center who we’ve been working some at second guard.”
James O’Hagan is the reason Brown has played pretty much exclusively at guard. An undrafted free agent out of Buffalo, the Giants appear to be taking a long look at the 6-foot-1, 300-pound O’Hagan. If they end up liking what they see, he could take a spot away from Brown. Practice squad is also a possibility.
“He’s strong, he’s tough, he’s smart. He reminds me a lot of Evan Brown, they are the same type of player,” Hunter said. He’s a little bit of a smaller player, but it helps him with leverage. He’s tough, I really like him, I think he is a quality player who is going to be really fighting for a roster spot.”
“Sloppy” can be a kind way to describe the type of play you often see from reserve offensive line groups in the preseason. Cohesion is not exactly the norm for those groups.
I wouldn’t be looking for that from Giants’ backup offensive linemen as you watch the preseason games. What you want to watch for, and what the Giants will likely be watching for, is individual performance.
Who holds up on the edge? Does O’Hagan look like he can hold up in the middle, both physically and mentally? Can Brown handle guard? Does Gates look in games like what the Giants believe they see in practice?
Some of these guys are going to earn backup jobs. Still, my belief remains that the Giants will be actively combing through the waiver wire and available free agents for upgrades once other teams trim their rosters to 53 players.