Former NFL offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who spent 23 seasons doing that job for the Cincinnati Bengals, is bullish on the future of the New York Giants’ offensive line. He feels pretty good about the present, too.
“On paper it’s the best looking line that I remember for the Giants in quite a while,” Alexander told the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast. “I do think the future’s bright. I’m typically totally honest. If I thought they sucked I’d tell you they sucked. But I’m optimistic about the quality of the line.”
Alexander, who also coached in the NFL with the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, addressed several players and topics during our conversation. Here is some of what we discussed.
Alexander was with the Bengals when Cincinnati made the current Giants’ right guard their first-round pick (27th overall) in 2012.
“Kevin Zeitler should be a Pro Bowl player. He plays at an elite level. He’s big, strong, tough, very productive, excellent technician, very dependable,” Alexander said.
“He is the team leader that you want. I’m going to be honest with you, when we let him go with the Bengals, which I was furious about, that hurt us. And it hurt Cleveland when he left there. To me, I thought that was a great pickup by the Giants.”
Alexander told a story about Zeitler during Friday walk-thru practices with the Bengals. He said Zeitler would find a young defensive tackle to line up against and would go full speed when the other 20 players were walking through.
“It was always a mess, but you gotta love it,” Alexander said. “He was always the first one in the weight room every morning. Hardest worker. He’s the type of guy that you build a championship around. He’s a winner.”
Alexander trained the fourth overall pick prior to the 2020 NFL Draft.
“I thought he was the best of the group. I thought going into the draft early he was the first of the four tackles.
“At the end of the day he got picked first for this reason: One, He obviously has great physical ability. But, he had the highest grade of any offensive tackle getting ready for the draft according to pro Football Focus. Highest grade meaning he blocked his guy the most number of times, percentage wise. Highest statistical blocking grade in the best football conference in America, and he’s got the physical ability. So, why wouldn’t you take him first?
“I think the Giants did the right thing.”
Solder has not lived up to the four-year, $62 million ($34.8 million guaranteed) contract the Giants signed him to. Alexander said that after spending seven seasons with the New England Patriots, Solder was going to be a “tough fit” nearly anywhere else.
“In New England their drop back pass the quarterback is so shallow in the pocket, Brady, and the ball gets out so quickly that all their passes basically they just run their guy around. They just kind of set and turn and run their guy around. By the time that happens the ball’s gone,” Alexander said.
“Well, every other team in the league virtually takes longer in their protection. The quarterback sets deeper, the routes are farther down the field. Certainly that was true with the New York Giants with [Pat] Shurmur.
Alexander went even further:
“The point is, here he is running guys around quickly that he’s done his entire career and not using what you would consider traditional drop back pass protection techniques where you would take an angle and set square and firm and block the guy. So, this was a whole new world to him,” Alexander said.
“It was a bad fit. He was kind of trained in a particular system in New England. Virtually if he went to any other team he would have an adjustment period.”
Alexander added that it remained to be seen whether or not Solder could give the Giants at least adequate play in 2020.
Alexander is optimistic that Peart can eventually become the right tackle bookend to Thomas on the left side.
“You give him a year to get his feet wet, and learn, because he needs some developmental time, but I like Matt Peart,” Alexander said. “The second year you move Thomas over, you move Solder out, you put Peart in there at right tackle and you’ve got a good situation.”
Looking ahead to 2021, Alexander was optimistic.
“By next year when Thomas is on the left and Peart’s in there at right and they’ve got a center they’ll have one of the better lines in the league, I think,” he said.
Alexander said he worked with Peart at the Senior Bowl.
“What I like and whoever coached him at Connecticut really taught him some elite techniques. He has a very mature level of setting for angles and the proper timing with his feet and the proper hand usage,” Alexander said. “Very few guys coming out of college know how to respond properly with their hands. I saw that at the Senior Bowl and I was quite impressed. I think he needs to get a little more meat on his bones. He’ll need that year of development and then I think he’ll be ready to go in there and be a good solid right tackle.”
The 2018 second-round pick is entering his third season as the Giants left guard, and is coming off a disappointing 2019.
“He’s still got a ways to go. There’s a little bit of development and learning for him to do,” Alexander said.
He described Hernandez as “big and tough,” but also as a “little stiff. Not a great athlete.”
He added that Hernandez “Needed to learn to relax a little bit to let his athleticism come out. To me he looks tight as a player. He’s only in his third year. I think he’s going to be fine.”
Like former NFL center Brett Romberg, Alexander thinks it would be problematic for the Giants to use an untested center like Nick Gates or Shane Lemieux this season.
“There’s going to be a hole no matter what. The legitimate NFL center is not on the club, he’s not on the roster. Zeitler can’t play center. Hernandez can’t play center. Lemieux in my mind, who I think was an unbelievably great pick in the fifth round, is a guard. He’s not a center. He’s kind of cumbersome, mauler, not quick and agile like you would expect a center to be,” Alexander said.
“I would try to pick up a veteran, if it were me. Or I would pick the smartest guy I could. You need the guy who can run the show and be the smartest, and you’ve got to adjust your schemes a little bit to account for some physical mismatches. Don’t put the guy in there with the greatest promise who’s not real smart because then you have a potential disaster situation.”
Alexander said he would expect the Giants to be watching roster moves made by other teams.
“It’s not over yet,” he said. “There are going to be some [centers] cut.”
I had to ask Alexander about the Giants’ new offensive line coach. I wasn’t surprised, though, that while Alexander was professional in his comments he wasn’t effusive in his praise. After his 23-year stint in Cincinnati ended, Alexander moved on to the Dallas Cowboys. He lasted less than a full season, with Jason Garrett replacing him with Colombo. So, there certainly has to be mixed feelings on Alexander’s part.
Still, here is what he said about Colombo:
“I think he’s an intense guy, demanding guy. He’s going to expect them to do it a certain way at a certain effort level. I think that’s probably his strength as a coach,” Alexander said. “I think he’ll do fine.”
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