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Giants’ positional battles: Swing tackle

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It’s probably Cameron Fleming — but, what if it’s not?

New York Giants v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Giants’ offensive tackles had a rough season in 2019. The perpetuation of mediocrity at the position was sadly upheld by Nate Solder and Mike Remmers. The latter actually had a better year than I expected, albeit he ranked in the top 10 of pressures allowed during the season. The latter, Solder, ranked number one in the league out of all lineman with 56 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

Daniel Jones was sacked 38 times in 2019, ranking 12th in the league despite missing 4 games. Solder surrendered 11 of those sacks and Remmers only 3, but the quarterback was constantly under duress which affected the interior offensive line’s protection calls, ability to stay in communication and their overall effectiveness. After hiring Jason Garrett to run his offense, the Giants added Cameron Fleming in free agency, who is a solid spot starting tackle who is adequate.

Remmers has since moved on to the Chiefs and the Giants targeted the offensive line heavily during the draft, in an effort to fortify a unit that has been middling at best over the last decade. The Giants’ would forgo an opportunity to select Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons for the defense and decided to draft the most versatile, and most prototypical, tackle in the draft.

Big Blue selected Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas, a player who had success on both the right and left side. He’s also a solid athlete with incredible length (36 ⅛” arms, 97th percentile). Then the Giants doubled down in the third round, pick 99, and selected a raw, but incredibly athletic, tackle out of UCONN named Matt Peart. The former Husky has 36 ⅝” arms, even longer than Thomas, but he may be a year away from starting.

Dave Gettleman really stressed upgrading the position group that Jerry Reese neglected to successfully upgrade. Time will tell if Thomas and Peart will work out, but I love the strategy and it was much needed. If it does work out, then credit must be given to the front office and the coaching staff for developing the players. The influx of talent at the position, along with the presence of Nick Gates, makes me question who will be the number one swing tackle for the Giants? Will it be a clear-cut race? Let’s discuss it below!

Front runner: Cameron Fleming

A lot of people may expect to see Nick Gates’ name here, but Fleming makes more sense to me given all of the unknown variables that come along with the 2020 season. Firstly, Fleming is going into his seventh season with a lot of experience at several different spots: he has 769 career snaps at left tackle, 927 career snaps at right tackle, and 308 career snaps as an extra offensive tackle in overloaded sets.

He filled in for Tyron Smith last year at a solid level and was able to help anchor the Cowboys offensive line, while only giving up 2 sacks and 13 pressures in 10 games. He’s not overly flashy, but he does an adequate job in both phases of run blocking and pass protection. His poor tendency to bend and overextend is a major concern, but his anchor is far better than Gates’ anchor, yet that’s not why I think he’ll get the first crack at the swing tackle position.

Fleming is familiar with both Jason Garrett and offensive line coach Marc Colombo. He was in Dallas for two years, so he has a firm understanding of what to do and where the coaches want him in certain situations. This is going to be important. He has a ton of live reps and two full years with these coaches, so his understanding on what to do and when to do it should be much more than an undrafted rookie from 2018, even though said rookie, Nick Gates, played very well in his limited duty last year.

Furthermore, there are rumors that Gates is being cross trained at other positions to be a much more versatile offensive lineman. He started at guard against Miami when Christian Wilkens proved to be a bit much for him, but he still did a great job with his positioning and hands. I have concerns about Gates on the interior, due to anchor/strength issues, but I think he’s a fine swing offensive lineman who can start, but hopefully not against top competition, particularly really strong players at the point of attack. If Gates is being cross trained at other positions, it will take the valuable reps away from him learning the tackle spot in this new offense. I really like Nick Gates, but I have to give Fleming the nod due to experience, familiarity, and strength differences.

Potential candidate: Nick Gates

Just because I have Fleming as the front runner doesn’t mean Gates lacks a realistic shot. Gates started the Jets game and the Week 17 contest against the Eagles at right tackle, while starting right guard against Miami. He really impressed me in the Jets contest; Jets’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was manipulating the line of Hal Hunter all game, putting the clamps on the Giants rushing attack, yet Gates was able to make some really impressive plays throughout the contest.

Gates framed his blocks well in pass protection with quick feet, strong hands, and solid flexibility. He was also able to position himself well against stronger opponents to try and maximize the rushing attack that was relatively nonexistent that day. He took on wide rushers from angles that would be tough for even experienced tackles, yet Gates found ways to cut the angles off and not put himself in a compromised position.Gates was a bright spot in a dark corner in that game.

As a tackle against Philadelphia was a bit different; he struggled to keep up with the unique pressure packages of Jim Schwartz and his anchor would be tested by stronger pass rushers like Brandon Graham. Gates gave up 5 pressures and 4 of them were hurries in the Eagles game, but it wasn’t like he was in over his head.

I saw some pretty big flaws in his play strength against Miami when he was playing guard too. He couldn’t generate a ton of push at the point of attack against players like Wilkins and Davon Godchaux, yet he still did well in pass protection. If he can get a bit stronger with his anchor, then I think he can really be something that the Giants can utilize up and down the line, outside of maybe the center position, which he is being rumored at right now. As far as tackle goes, he should be given a legitimate shot at the backup right tackle position for the Giants.

Underdog: Matt Peart

Peart is an incredibly long player who Reese’s Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy compared to former Jets’ first round pick D’Brickashaw Ferguson. High praise, yes, but Peart’s tape is also intriguing. His movement skills are so smooth and effortless and his length cannot be taught. When he gets his hands inside, and stays square, he proves to be a hard tackle to defeat because trying to go around him is a marathon, so you better have the strength to go through him.

His strength poses a slight problem as of right now; he’s a very lean player who may struggle to handle power rushes in the NFL. He was able to mask the strength concerns at UCONN and he wasn’t embarrassed down at the Senior Bowl, but the idea of him going up against a wide rushing Demarcus Lawrence can be scary.

I feel a year in an NFL training and lifting program, along with a few PB&Js here and there, and Peart may be able to add bulk to his lean 6-foot-7, 318-pound, frame. At UConn, Peart was able to use his athletic ability and length to dominate and mask any technical errors that he had in his game, so 2020 should be spent practicing, watching, learning, and getting stronger - not playing per se. However, if injuries befall this team and both Fleming and Gates are either playing one spot or injured, then someone has to step up to the plate; that someone should be Peart.

I’m excited to watch Peart’s development over the next few seasons. If he maximizes his skill set, then the draft was a homerun and the Giants found a left and right tackle for the foreseeable future. I trust that Marc Colombo, an offensive line coach who has developed raw talent, can get the most out of Peart...just be a bit patient.

Final thoughts

The question of who is starting right and left tackle between Solder and Thomas is a topic for another article, but who is backing them up is a totally different story. I believe that Fleming, a player who has enough experience on both sides, will get the first crack at the swing tackle position.

I like Gates, but the cross training and strength concerns force me to favor Fleming a bit more. Gates is still a valuable player to have on the roster because of his versatility, even though the Giants added Shane Lemieux in the draft and brought in Kyle Murphy via undrafted free agency. Outside of Fleming, Gates, and Peart, I don’t see any of the other tackles making a realistic run for significant snaps, unless the Giants become overwhelmed with injuries.

Two of the additions are rookies who have so much to prove, but the roster is night and day compared to last year in terms of the offensive line. With that being stated, the reality of the matter is that Nate Solder will more than likely be starting this season. If it’s 2019 Nate Solder, that’s problematic for the Giants. If the struggles persist for Solder early on in the season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Fleming getting a call to be in the starting lineup without the occurrence of an offensive line injury.