The New York Giants knew entering the 2020 NFL Draft that bolstering their offensive line was a must. Former Giant Shaun O’Hara believes the selection of Andrew Thomas No. 4 overall was the best move they could have made to strengthen that position group.
“I didn’t like it. I loved it,” O’Hara said of the move Tuesday in an exclusive phone interview with Big Blue View. “Andrew Thomas was No. 1 on my list of left tackles.”
O’Hara said Thomas was “arguably the best left tackle in college football the last two years.”
“I had zero question marks about Andrew Thomas, really. The more I learned about him the more I appreciated how good he was,” O’Hara said. “Two things that jumped out at me on film. I thought he had a really good anchor. You did not see him get pushed back into the pocket when he got a bullrush he could sit it down. … I thought his run-blocking was phenomenal.”
“I literally had no question marks about him.”
In defense of Nate Solder
The selection of Thomas is the good news. Giants fans, though, have plenty of questions about the other bookend on the Giants’ offensive line, veteran left tackle Nate Solder. Coming off a rough 2019 season, many Giants fans can’t wait to be able to call Solder an ex-Giant.
O’Hara issued an impassioned defense of Solder.
“I still believe Nate Solder is a good left tackle. I think anybody that says anything otherwise isn’t watching film, and doesn’t understand how hard it is to play left tackle in this league,” O’Hara said. “Nate Solder is a damn good football player. He’s been a damn good football player, he’s played at the Pro Bowl level, he’s won Super Bowls. One hundred percent I think he’s the best left tackle the Giants have right now.”
O’Hara, in fact, said he would leave Solder at left tackle and allow Thomas to get his NFL feet wet at right tackle.
”I think Andrew Thomas can morph into a left tackle but if you’re telling me to put the five best guys out on the field I’m putting Nate Solder at left tackle and I’m putting Andrew Thomas at right tackle,” O’Hara said.
“There are a lot of teams that wish they had Nate Solder.”
O’Hara’s first year with the Giants was the rookie season of Eli Manning, and O’Hara said that as smart and prepared as he was, Manning “didn’t know which way was up sometimes” during that 2004 season.
Daniel Jones, of course, was a rookie starting quarterback for the Giants a year ago and O’Hara said that as an offensive lineman “You struggle when you have a rookie quarterback.”
What about center?
Solder and Thomas are expected to man the tackle spots, with Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez at the guards. Giants’ fans, though, are still wondering who will be at center.
“Nobody’s going to be able to answer that until training camp,” O’Hara said.
Jon Halapio, currently rehabbing from a Week 17 Achilles tendon tear, was the 2019 starter but remains unsigned as the Giants try to monitor his physical condition.
O’Hara said that Halapio is the “most physical” center the Giants could have with “the most girth.” He added, though, that it would be difficult for Halapio to be ready for the season if he isn’t healthy enough to take full reps in training camp.
Spencer Pulley, a four-year veteran who has 26 career starts — 10 in two seasons with the Giants — isn’t a player who excites the fans. O’Hara, though, likes what he has seen.
“Spencer Pulley is a really good center. He’s very polished. He’s got good technique,” O’Hara said. “He’s not as big and as physical as Halapio but I think he’s a little bit better at the second level. He may be a little bit more athletic.”
O’Hara said that young players Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux, who are both expected to cross train at center, face a difficult challenge because of the lack of reps caused by the cancellation of on-field work in the spring.
“The center position is a different cup of tea,” O’Hara said. “When you’re playing guard or tackle all you’ve got to worry about is your guy and getting off on the right snap count. When you’re a center you’ve got to make calls, you’ve got to snap the ball first, you’ve got to make sure that you’re not fumbling any exchanges or messing up any shotguns, so it’s definitely more responsibility.
“It’s something that you have to get used to. If you’ve never done it it takes time. You’ve got to get comfortable and you’ve got to get confident in it.”
More takeaways from my chat with O’Hara.
On the challenge of the offseason for the Giants ...
“Joe Judge already had a pretty uphill battle given what’s going on in the division and being a first-time head coach and having such a young team, but I also think that’s what attracted him to the job and what attracted him to the Giants in terms of trying to turn this program around and knowing that it’s not going to be done overnight. This has definitely created some challenges.”
On how to judge progress for the Giants in 2020 ...
“We’re always looking for that barometer, right? How do we gauge improvement?,” said O’Hara, adding that “You can’t only go by record.”
O’Hara’s point was that not all wins and losses are created equal.
“I look at the progress from kind of a different lens. Are the Giants beating themselves? Are they losing games or are they giving games away? Are you winning games or is the other team losing?,” O’Hara said.
“How good of a team are they when it comes to mental errors, when it comes to the accountability factor. Are you doing what you’re supposed to be doing on every single play?”…
“Even though you’re a pro, these guys aren’t all pros. That’s unfortunately one of the things that I have seen. It’s been a pattern with the last two coaching staffs that the accountability factor really wasn’t there because the same mistakes would happen week in and week out and you would see the same losses b/c of the same game situation or the same reason.” ...
“The win-loss record is not always a true indicator of growth and/or progress. I think, looking at the Giants, here’s how I’m going to gauge their progress. What is their offensive identity, and what is their defensive identity?”
Offensively, O’Hara called Saquon Barkley “the best running back in the game” and added “the offensive identity damn sure better go through him.”
O’Hara added that “A guy like Saquon Barkley, the one thing you can’t do as a coach is ‘don’t mess it up.’ You’ve got a great player. All you’ve got to do is give him space, give him opportunities.”
Defensively, O’Hara said the Giants have for too long been a team that gives up big plays, can’t get off the field on third down, and can’t consistently pressure the opposing quarterback.
“Show me something that’s different,” O’Hara said. “Until we see a defense that can get a stop on third down, that doesn’t give up the big play, and that can get pressure on the quarterback, until I see that there is no progress.”
On Eli Manning showing more personality now that he has retired ...
“The general population can now appreciate the sense of humor, the playfulness, the wit that Eli has always had. Look, everything Eli does is by design. He doesn’t do anything by default,” O’Hara said.
“His image and what he allowed out there while he was playing was by design. He was the face of the franchise. When you’re a starting quarterback for any franchise you’re bulletin board material all the time. You’ve gotta be on 100 percent of the time and anything you say or do is going to get magnified and glorified. He knew that. He wore it like a badge of honor. I thought he handled it extremely well.”
On players using their platform to try and enact social change ...
“I’m always proud when players use their platform for good. Whether you like it or not you’re on the platform. I like to see players take control of that narrative. I like to see players stand up for things they believe in. But I also feel like that’s a personal choice,” O’Hara said.
“I think the majority of the population forgets that these kids are 23 years old, 22 years old,. Andrew Thomas is 21. These are kids and people are expecting them to act like a 45-year-old. To be wise like a 50-year-old. That’s just not realistic.
“I think it’s great when any of these young men at 22, 23, 24, 25 years old when they use their platform to be great role models.”
O’Hara was made available via a connection with VegasInsider.com.