For offensive line coach Marc Colombo, the center position was once one of concern. But after Joe Judge called the competition for the starting center spot “scratch-even,” the position no longer seems like one of weakness but of opportunity.
Second-year player Nick Gates and center Spencer Pulley are competing head-to-head for the starting job. Gates played offensive tackle in his first year in the league and Pulley is entering his fifth season.
“Spencer’s (Pulley) really smart, he’s tough, he’s played the position for a while,” Colombo said. “Nick’s (Gates) also smart, tough, just learning the position. They both are very physical football players and they’re battling for that starting job right now. I can’t be happier with the competition that’s going on. They both bring a lot of strong traits to the table and they come.”
Colombo will have the added difficulty of assessing Gates’ readiness without seeing him play in a preseason game. Colombo credited the defense for changing up the looks to continue to push Gates to navigate different situations on the field. Colombo said that the goal is to show Gates as many different looks as possible in practice in order to prepare him for anything he might see in a live-game atmosphere. Though Gates is still learning, Colombo praised his ability to learn from mistakes.
“That’s a big quality to have in a center, to be able to correct yourself right away so we can move on and show him something else so we’re not stuck on the same exact coaching point over and over and over again that you see with some of these young guys,” Colombo said. “He’s a guy that we love what we’ve seen from him so far...Just excited in the future for Nick Gates. He’s done a really good job so far and we’ll keep showing him those looks, keep pressing him to get better.”
Here are four additional takeaways from Colombo’s media availability.
To play or not to play...your best players
While trying to fill the hole at center for the Giants, Colombo dismissed the notion that good tackles cannot make good centers and vice versa. He stressed the importance of maintaining a balance between versatility and cohesion on the offensive line.
“There’s a fine line there between playing your best five and creating continuity,” Colombo said. “Coach Judge does a really nice job making sure we’re getting certain reps and getting guys in different positions at times. But also at times, making sure we have a couple lines in there and they’re just competing, learning how to play next to each other...right now, we’re trying to find the guys that are going to get in there, really compete, really grind.”
The stunt work by the defense has further helped the offensive line establish comfort working together as they are pushed to respond to different looks.
“The harder we can make it on them right now, the easier it’s going to be come when we start these games here in a little bit,” Colombo said. “Really, our job right now is to keep showing really difficult looks. Our defense does a great job of giving it. We also give each other looks when we’re down there in individual period. Again, you’re really getting those guys out there, those young guys, and making sure these looks are perfect so we can execute with speed and fast, and really just train these guys to play next to each other.”
Relying on the rookies
The Giants fourth-round overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Andrew Thomas has appeared to live up to expectations so far during practice. For Colombo, one of Thomas’ strengths is having the mental and physical fortitude to not make the same mistake twice.
“He competes,” Colombo said. “When he gets beat, you don’t have to tell him twice. He’s one of those guys, if you give him a coaching point, he’ll take the coaching point and we can move on really to the next thing...That’s what’s been really fun to watch about Andrew. You can tell him one thing, and the next time he goes out there, he does it the way you’re looking for. That’s how you can get better really as a group, as a tackle.”
Meanwhile, tackle Matt Peart was the Giants’ 99th pick in the draft out of the University of Connecticut. Particularly for young players such as Peart, Colombo stressed the importance of details.
“We’re going to keep pushing him to really grind it out, get better at every little detail,” Colombo said. “That’s really what these young guys, it’s all about the details...You kind of look at him and you say to yourself, ‘That looks like a football player.’ Again, he’s done a tremendous job. Get him on the right side, get him on the left, again, multiple positions with these guys. Have to be able to play both tackles. That’s a big deal, and he’s done a nice job with that so far.”
Preventing interceptions can start with the o-line
After there were numerous batted down passes during a team scrimmage, Colombo emphasized the importance of the offense as a whole working together to prevent interceptions. Yet, he also called the offensive line specifically an “anchor.”
“I feel like we have to anchor sooner and really the rule of thumb is, if they try to jump up for a ball, you have to stick your hands in their chest and you have to thump them,” Colombo said. “You put that on film a couple of times, it’ll keep them from kind of jumping up there. It’s really about anchoring and being a little bit more firm in the middle. That’ll help that so they can’t help push the pocket and actually get their hands up there in that lane.”
Former Dallas Cowboys Cam Fleming is another familiar face who brings six years of experience to the Giants and can therefore help anchor a developing offensive line.
“You can watch him out there, he’s the first guy out there at practice, he’s always working on his pass sets, honing his craft,” Colombo said. “He’s extremely smart, he’s gritty, he’s tough, he’s played in a lot of big games. We’re always looking for little things to work on, and Cam’s that guy. He’s constantly wearing me out, ‘How can I get better?’ That’s really what you want to look for in an offensive lineman. I have a lot of confidence, we have a lot of confidence, in Cam Fleming.”
Is the o-line “nasty” enough?
Colombo has stressed the importance of his offensive line playing nasty since arriving to the Giants and he has held his ground.
“We can always play more physical,” Colombo said. “The first part of that is making sure we get into these fits right in the run game, physical in the pass game with our hands. We’re still working those details out right now so we can really get out there and once we learn how to do it right, that’s when you can impose your will on the defense. We’ve done a good job at least with the physical nature of it. We need to clean up the technique part of it.”