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Will Hernandez film study: What went wrong, and right, for talented young guard in 2019?

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Let’s break down Hernandez’s play

New York Giants v Detroit Lions - NFL Football Game Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Will Hernandez was the New York Giants’ second-round pick in 2018 out of UTEP. Ostensibly, Hernandez regressed in his second NFL season, after a promising rookie year. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that Hernandez had a sophomore slump in 2019, but there were many variables that led to that decline.

The offensive line, more so than any other football detachment, is truly one unit. If there are any weak links, instruction errors, or fluid changes, then the unit as a whole can struggle. Former offensive line coach Hal Hunter didn’t do the offensive line any favors in 2019, and Hernandez wasn’t immersed in the best situation. Left tack Nate Solder gave up the most pressures out of any offensive lineman and was third in sacks allowed, and Jon Halapio gave up the fifth-most pressures out of all centers, while ranking 36th in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus.

Hernandez ranked 74th in offense, 33rd in pass blocking, and 117th as a run blocker in 2019, after finishing 26th in offense, 38th in pass blocking, and 42nd in run blocking (out of all guards) as a rookie. Obviously, that isn’t ideal, but doesn’t mean Hernandez was inept, either.

(Will Hernandez: watch #71)

Run blocking - Pros

Hernandez was very strong in Week 1 against Dallas. Hernandez attacks the 1-Technique and establishes a half-man relationship, while Halapio chips the other shoulder of Antwaun Woods (99). If you can slow the video down, you can really see how Hernandez plants his outside foot into the ground, which gives him the necessary platform to recoil his strength and engage his hips to move Woods laterally, after Halapio moves to the second level. The offensive line, as a unit, does a good job transitioning to their secondary blocks, creating a big cutback lane for Saquon Barkley, on the inside zone run.

Here, the Giants come out in a split-zone right off the butt of Hernandez, who does an excellent job clearing Tyrone Crawford (98) from his 3-technique position. Hernandez uses his outside arm to get underneath the armpit, while taking his inside arm and sticking it right underneath the shoulder pad to steer Crawford outside. Hernandez then punches forward and turns his hips into the block, while showing an incredibly strong core at the point of attack to not allow Crawford to restrict the A-Gap.

This is a wide zone pitch and Barkley attacks the one hole again. Similar to the last play, Hernandez drives the defender, who shifted to be a 3-technique, down the line of scrimmage. You can see Hernandez steering, driving his feet, and earning the inside shoulder of the defender. These are quality reps from a young player. Hernandez also does a good job getting to the second level when uncovered.

The Patriots show an Okie Front with a blitzing linebacker to the left side, so Hernandez is uncovered, which provides him a free release to climb to linebacker Dont’a Hightower (54). Hernandez showed some processing ability right after the snap by punching his outside arm towards Solder, because he saw the blitz and he wanted to ensure that the gap wasn’t crashed at the first level. Hernandez is able to climb, locate, and steer Hightower inside, which would have opened a lovely lane for Jonathan Hilliman, but neither Solder nor Halapio could hold up well enough to allow for this to be a big gain. If Halapio wasn’t pushed back, maybe Hilliman would have had a chance, but the strength of Danny Shelton (71) prevailed.

Hernandez has even shown an ability to squeeze through when shaded in short yardage situations, while uncoiling his hips through second level defenders. Watch the kind of power he generates, while slightly off-kilter. He’s able to chip the 3-technique and annihilate the next threat. These kinds of plays aren’t anomalies. They’re well weithin Hernandez’s wheelhouse, but consistency isn’t always there. Let’s watch Hernandez in the power/gap scheme that we prognosticate offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will utilize.

This is the most common gap/power scheme that the Giants ran under Pat Shurmur. This is against an Under Front, but typically the play side tackle and guard double down and climb on the 3-technique, while the tight end takes the end man on the line of scrimmage. While that’s materializing, Hernandez (the backside guard) pulls and clears out the near-side linebacker. Again, the clip above is an Under Front, so there is no 3-technique to double down on, which allows Solder to climb to the MIKE. Hernandez, who is a better fit in a gap system, pulls and locates the filling linebacker while delivering a punishing blow.

Here’s the same gap/power pul, only against two 2-techniques, so Remmers and Zeitler can double down and climb on the play side 2-technique. Hernandez stays tight to the line of scrimmage, locates, sinks himself, makes contact, and turns the defender away from the hole. I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing more pulling Hernandez in the 2020 season. One more similar play against an Under type of front, with a blitzing element to the play side. Let’s hope the Nate Gerry (47) tied his shoes tightly that game.


Run game - Cons

As previously mentioned, consistency isn’t always present and we see that below.

Vea is shaded as a1-technique, so Hernandez is essentially uncovered, but he releases from the line of scrimmage with a wide angle to avoid contact with Vea. This is inside split zone, but Hernandez takes an angle like it’s wide zone, giving Devin White (45) a straight shot right into the A-gap.

Hernandez has been guilty of being beat by really well0timed blitzes, like the one we see against the Jets above. Hernandez, as a backside guard, chips the 4i-technique before working up to the second level, but Harvey Langi (44) shades off the butt of the 4i-technique, basically stacked on the player and blitzes at the snap. This doesn’t give Hernandez nearly enough time to recover from the chip, and Langi is unabated into Barkley’s lap.

There’s a reason why Hernandez felt it necessary to chip on the backside, and that is because Eric Smith was playing at left tackle. Solder was hurt earlier in the game and Halapio missed the game, forcing Spencer Pulley to start at center, so Hernandez wanted to help Smith with his block before climbing to the second level. Obviously, the blitz rendered Hernandez too slow and the play was halted. Nevertheless, it’s still a negative mark on Hernandez, and he did allow this to happen a few other times in the season.

The Eagles did something similar. Solder was having a tough game against the Eagles, so on a similar play (out of 12 personnel instead of 21) Hernandez chipped the 4i-technique Timmy Jernigan. T.J. Edwards (57) shoots the A-Gap when he sees the ball being handed off and, again, Hernandez can’t cut off the angle, which is widened due to a slight lateral flow of blocking and Halapio blocking down hard on Fletcher Cox (91) at the 2i-technique to the play side. The chip is intended to help, but Hernandez has to be aware of his own limitations on these specific types of runs.

Hernandez is typically low, centered, balanced, and ready to explode at the point of attack in the run game, but there are times in 2019 where he wasn’t, and it was exposed.

This is an attempted reach block on a 2i-technique. A wide zone play away from Hernandez. He’s initially lower than his target (although he doesn’t gain the defender’s chest) and moves slightly laterally, but he allows John Atkins (99) to sink his body weight, regain leverage, and then establish a half-man relationship. Once Atkins does this, Hernandez doesn’t seem to adjust, which isn’t consistent with his typical reactionary quickness. He gives up his chest and then gets thrown to the side, which is problematic for Barkley. Hernandez had a few reps where he was just beat or slow to react, two specifically against Jonathan Allen (93) of Washington.

The defense is in an Eagle front, so Hernandez is going up against Allen who is a 4i-technique. Hernandez slightly oversets and doesn’t seem to anticipate the possibility of the 4i-technique to cross his face into the 1 hole. Allen easily does and hits Hernandez with a club/swim combination to blow the play up in the backfield. Hernandez seemed lethargic in his set and never gained the chest of Allen. After he was beat, Hernandez didn’t seem to generate any power to the side of Allen either. It’s not the best look, and it wasn’t the only time it happened in this matchup.

This time Allen is a 4i-technique and Hernandez comes out aggressively, but again never establishes initial contact. Rather, he allows Allen to cross his face again while hitting him with the club/swim to get into the backfield. These are 1-on-1 matchups that a player can’t lose in the interior parts of the offensive line. Hernandez may have expected more help from Halapio, but his form was still not up to par. When his form goes in the run game, so does his effectiveness. Hernandez is a strong player, but not strong enough to overcome other NFL caliber athletes. He has to play with good leverage, hand placement, reactionary quickness, and footwork in order to frame his blocks properly and engage the strength that he does possess.

Technique can apply to short yardage situations, too. Here we see Romeo Okwara (95) win the leverage and hand placement battle against Hernandez. The Lions are in a Bear Front and Okwara is the 3-technique; he gets low and inside of Hernandez and just tosses him towards the A-Gap, where Daniel Jones is running a quarterback sneak. Hernandez literally gets lifted off his feet. We don’t see this often, but it was apparent that Okwara knew exactly how Hernandez was going to attack him. Okwara was ready and Hernandez paid, but the Giants still converted.


Pass protection - Pros

Hernandez ranked in the top 35 of guards as a pass protector according to Pro Football Focus, and he has reps that allude to the validity of the grade. He does a very good job hand fighting, readjusting, and positioning himself most of the time. Hernandez also displays an excellent anchor against most competition.

Here, Vea is the 2-technique and he does a good job opening Hernandez up outside with a hard outside foot jab, but Hernandez readjustd and engages his lower body/core to not get tossed by Vea’s hump move. Hernandez makes contact on Vea’s outside shoulder and attempts to push him laterally, but Vea takes his outside arm and tries to uproot an off-balanced Hernandez, who is somewhat out of position. Hernandez’s ability to reposition and center himself, while reestablishing his anchor and not being affected by Vea’s power is exceptional.

Hernandez possesses solid mirror and movement skills for an interior offensive lineman. Above, he takes on a slanting Dallas defender from the opposite side of the line of scrimmage (2i-technique). Hernandez maintains that low center of gravity, gets his hands inside the defender, and allows the defender to run himself out of the play, while staying in front of him and not allowing him to gain any separation. We see the grip strength inside, the hip flexibility, and the pure strength of Hernandez in that rep.

As we saw in the run portion of his game, Hernandez doesn’t consistently earn initial inside contact. Star Lotulelei (98) makes initial contact above and you can see how the defender gets inside of Hernandez, but Hernandez attempts to snatch/trap Lotulelei. He breaks the inside wrist and is able to turn Lotulelei a bit outside, while giving Eli Manning an opportunity to throw the football. This is a way to battle back when you make technical mistakes early on in a play.

Speaking of snatch/trap, Hernandez is able to trap Everson Griffen (97) while giving an inside arm jab to Linval Joseph (98). Griffen slants hard inside of Hernandez in an attempt to beat Solder. Griffen succeeds, but Hernandez is cognizant of the move and is able to absorb the contact and fall on top of Griffen. When his teammates helped him out, Hernandez was usually adept at picking up exotic stunts and twists.

Here we see the Patriots in a Bear type front and Hernandez’s 3-technique attacks Solder’s inside shoulder and Hernandez’s hips open with the 3-technique. He probably stayed with the 3-technique a bit too long, but his transition to pick up the looping linebacker in the stunt was really impressive. He showed flexibility, burst, and short area quickness to square up and make contact just in time before the defender altered Daniel Jones’ passing attempt.

One of the best parts of Hernandez’s pass protection ability is his anchor. Against most competition, Hernandez excels with his anchor. He had a bit of trouble against players like Fletcher Cox, but it was more of a bend, don’t break situation. Above, we see Hernandez hit his back outside foot and completely stop Shamar Stephan (93) who was rushing from a 4-technique position, so Hernandez had to open up like a tackle into space. Hernandez halts Stephan in his tracks, but again Hernandez fails to make the initial contact and gives up his chest. Against better competition, this may not go so well for Hernandez.

Against Joseph, one of the stronger interior defensive lineman in the league, Hernandez executed exceptional readjustment skills and hand fighting to ensure that Joseph couldn’t put him on skates. Joseph is the 1-technique who makes initial contact with an outside arm stab to push Hernandez back a bit, but Hernandez engages his core, sinks his hips, and is able to anchor in place, while constantly catching and throwing the hands of Joseph away from his own body. Below are two reps against talented rookie pass rusher Ed Oliver. Hernandez’s anchoring skills are on display, as are his readjustment, and reactionary quickness.


Pass protection — Cons

Todd Bowles was the first defensive coordinator to really focus on manipulating the left side of the Giants offensive line. Solder was showing signs of decline, Halapio is a replacement level starter, and Hernandez is still a young player, so the Buccaneers focused on disguising blitzes to create mismatches against that side of the line. Essentially, Hernandez was put into conflict and the protections were out-schemed by the defense.

Above, Jones is able to get this pass off, but Halapio isn’t there to pick up the blitzing linebacker because Suh, the 2i-technique, shoots inside, leaving Zeitler to take the inside path of the Wide-9 defender and Vea being a free rusher from the 3-technique spot. This is a four-man pressure package that manipulated the blocking scheme, but Hernandez made the right choice abandoning the 3-technique and picking up the most dangerous man being the blitzer.

The scheme issues are compounded by Solder’s struggles handling Shaq Barrett (58). Solder’s inability to keep Barrett from shooting inside, when he should have known he didn’t have inside help because of the presence of Vea at the 3-technique on Hernandez, caused the Giants problems throughout this contest, and really the entire season. Hernandez had to constantly keep his eyes towards Solder to help out the inside slant; he was a bit late on this one, but it’s difficult to do so when there’s a 3-technique, even with the slide protection.

Solder wasn’t the only problem, again ... the offensive line is a unit, and Halapio also had struggles in that Week 3 affair. The 3-technique from the opposite side loops with a linebacker coming in to prevent Zeitler from passing the looper to Halapio. Halapio can not overcome this and lunges dramatically at the looper who presses the outside, while already being too far upfield for Hernandez’s help because Halapio couldn’t make enough contact to halt him at the line of scrimmage. Solder has to respect Barrett’s presence as he drops into coverage, so the pass of Vea from Hernandez to Solder took some time too. Give it to Bowles for some well schemed four-man pressure packages because the Giants personnel and coaching seemed to struggle to figure them out.

The Vikings did this early on in the game against the Giants. Eric Kendricks (54) showed blitz and the protection slide right, but it was Anthony Barr (55) who blitzes the open A-Gap against Hernandez who was tasked to block Joseph at the 3-technique. Halapio should have recognized the blitz from Barr and shifted left, but failed to do so. The left side of the line was once again attacked and a three rushers versus two blockers was crafted successfully for Minnesota.

During the Jets game, Hernandez was forced to play between Smith and Pulley, and it didn’t necessarily go overly well. Above, the Jets are in a Bear Front and Hernandez allows Nathan Sheppard (97) to earn initial contact and Sheppard dictated the rest of the rep. Pulley was occupied by the 0-technique, and Hernandez was beaten off the snap with his hand and tried to readjust his inside arm underneath Sheppard, which prompted Sheppard to work inside and off the contact of Hernandez. Right as Hernandez goes to reestablish that inside arm, Sheppard sees the opportunity to break away.

It’s obvious the timing was off between Hernandez and Pulley on this stunt. Pulley was a bit late to acknowledge the Hammer, which forced Hernandez to stay with the block too long, and it allowed the looper the space to work around Hernandez’s blocking attempt. Pulley never really had a good position and the Jets just simply ran an excellent stunt from the two 3-techniques.

Timmy Jernigan is the 1-technique, with Derek Barnett (96) as the wide rusher. Barnett opens Solder up outside and comes inside with a spin move; this forces Hernandez to come off of the 1-technique that Halapio was handling well. Solder and Barnett are at a depth where Hernandez never really had a realistic chance at stopping the inside spin. That’s not necessarily Hernandez’s responsibility; yes, a team would hope an uncovered guard can help assist a tackles inside, but Hernandez is also focused on stunts/twists, picking up loopers/blitzes, and the 1-technique. The pass rushing path of Barnett almost renders Hernandez ineffective unless he shifted in that direction right after the snap. It’s a tough help, and one would hope that a franchise left tackle can handle rushers in space.

There are a ton of variables to blame other than Hernandez when evaluating the Giants offensive line, but his consistency could still be lacking at times.

Against Arizona above, Hernandez gives his chest up to a bull rushing Darius Philon (93). Hernandez is essentially holding Philon and has no control of his chest, so his pad level rises and the defender is able to grab Hernandez’s chest and toss the guard to the ground. Hernandez was able to hold on just long enough to allow Jones to throw a dime, but it’s not good technique and it leads to errors like we just witnessed.

Hernandez fails to frame his block well against Tim Settle (97) of Washington on the play action counter pass. Hernandez slides to meet Settle, but ends up giving Settle leverage outside to attack. He goes way too far inside and Settle easily breaks away from the block to nail Jones in the backfield after the release.


Final thoughts

Hernandez didn’t progress as we hoped in 2019, but it’s difficult to maximize your talent when you’re surrounded by so much uncertainty. Halapio and Solder were both underwhelming starters in 2019 and the Giants offensive line was a mess as a whole, with a lot of coaching question marks.

The Giants offensive line seemed to be out-schemed far too often by defensive coordinators. I don’t believe many Giants’ fans are giving up on Hernandez. There is a ton to like about him as a player. He’s physical at the point of attack, a functional athlete for the position, and typically plays with good leverage, while showing a solid level of mental processing.

With that being said, he needs to be more consistent with his technique of establishing initial contact and not giving up his chest. If the Giants can find a solution at center and Andrew Thomas ends up being the player we all think he can be, then the Giants will be more than fine with Hernandez at guard. We shouldn’t forget that he was a second-year player, surrounded by mediocrity, in 2019. I’m looking for him to be a breakout candidate for this team, in an offense that should suit his skill set much more than Shurmur’s offense. Now, please enjoy the tough nature of Hernandez in these three clips below, and always remember ... if you’re not doing anything, be like Hernandez and LOOK FOR WORK!