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Giants’ offensive line: Rough start, but play of Andrew Thomas a bright spot

Coach Joe Judge has “no doubt” the group will improve

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said a couple of weeks ago that the Giants have “pieces” on their offensive line. That may well be true, but Monday night the established and outstanding defensive front of the Pittsburgh Steelers made it obvious that group is not yet a cohesive, functioning unit.

As has been written many times already, the Steelers turned star running back Saquon Barkley (15 carries, 6 yards) into a non-factor. Quarterback Daniel Jones was sacked three times and hurried on 22 of his 44 drop backs, per Pro Football Focus.

Tuesday afternoon, Giants coach Joe Judge took the glass half full approach in talking about the offensive line.

“I’m really pleased with how they played as a unit together. It was the first time they got to go in a competitive situation against a foreign opponent. so obviously a lot of different looks,” Judge said. “I’m pleased with the way they competed.”

Judge said he believes the group, with three new starters including a rookie left tackle and a young, first-time center, will get better.

“As a unit we’ve just gotta go ahead and keep improving collectively. That’s the biggest thing. The one thing about those bigs is it doesn’t matter how one guy plays. It’s all five have to play in synch all the time and they have to get that chemistry as you’re referring to going forward,” Judge said.

“I have no doubt there’s going to be a lot of improvement going forward.”

Here are some thoughts from Judge on the team’s three new starters.

LT Andrew Thomas

The No. 4 overall pick had the unenviable task of going up against Bud Dupree, who had 11.5 sacks a season ago. Thomas earned a 60.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus — not fantastic, but best among Giants’ linemen on Monday. He allowed four pressures in what PFF judged to be 52 pass blocking snaps.

Truthfully, an encouraging beginning for Thomas.

“I think he showed that he’s got a lot of ability in this league and there’s a reason he’s here,” Judge said. “He fought really hard. I think he played well overall. He learned a lot of valuable lessons going against top opponents like Bud Dupree.”

Judge said the ability of a player like Dupree is something that just can’t be practiced for.

“That’s something you can’t simulate. I don’t care who you’ve got on your defensive front he’s just different than guys you may have. He plays with a distinct motor, he’s a tough competitor and you have to have a lot of respect for him,” Judge said.

“For Andrew to have his first NFL competition in a game against a guy like that that says a lot for how he was able to hold up throughout the game.”

C Nick Gates

There are a lot of people wondering today if the Giants made a mistake by turning center over to Gates, a third-year player who had never played the position in a game until Monday.

As expected, Pittsburgh provided a stern challenge for Gates both physically and mentally.

“I think Nick Gates overall handled himself pretty well. Again, there’s always things you have to improve on. I’m very pleased with the way he came out and competed last night, handled a lot of calls, a lot of different fronts from these guys,” Judge said.

“Look, these guys played against some boy dogs out there last night, OK. Some good players. I think Nick did a good job really overall standing up to it.”

Gates received a 54.4 PFF grade (44.8 pass blocking, 56.8 run blocking) and was charged with allowing three pressures.

RT Cameron Fleming

Signed to be a swing tackle, Fleming became a starter when Nate Solder opted out. He had his hands full with the Steelers’ best rusher Monday night, T.J. Watt. Fleming allowed a sack and three hurries, and finished the night with a 51.6 PFF grade.

“I thought Cam fought his butt off last night. Obviously he went against one of the best players in the National Football League with T.J. Watt and he did a good job overall on him,” Judge said. “Obviously there’s a play or two that you’ve always got to go back on and how can we correct it going forward. But I’m very pleased with what Cam did for us.”

Final thoughts

Obviously not the beginning the Giants or this offensive line hoped for. Aside from the three new players, it was distressing to see Will Hernandez allow five pressures and Kevin Zeitler four.

No one should have expected the Giants’ offensive line to dominate the Steelers, or to even play a completely clean game.

For now, I’ll buy Judge’s glass half full approach and believe that this line will get better as the season progresses.