Everybody knows the story of Humpty Dumpty. When poor old Humpty suffered his Great Fall, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Well, when you think about it the story of Humpty Dumpty has been pretty much the story of the New York Giants offensive line in recent seasons.
The Giants offensive line, once the best unit in the league and a key cog in two Super Bowl titles, suffered its Great Fall in 2013. That year, age, injuries, retirements, poor free-agent decisions and lack of attention in the draft caught up to the line. The Giants surrendered 40 quarterback sacks, double what the line had allowed the previous year.
No one has been able to put the pieces back together since. GM Jerry Reese tried, with top draft picks like Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg and Ereck Flowers. GM Dave Gettleman has been trying, too, with mixed results.
A collection of offensive line coaches have tried. Pat Flaherty. Mike Solari. Hal Hunter. Marc Colombo. Dave DeGuglielmo.
Now, head coach Joe Judge and the Giants have turned to first-time NFL position coach Rob Sale, a highly-successful collegiate offensive line coach, to see if he has the magic ingredients to put Gettleman’s current pieces together. In other words, it is Sale’s turn to try and rebuild Humpty Dumpty.
Judge and Sale have a relationship going back to their days as assistant coaches under Nick Saban at Alabama. After the tumult of 2020, with DeGuglielmo replacing Colombo midseason, Judge turned to his trusted colleague to try and maximize the potential of a young, talented offensive line in which the Giants are heavily invested.
“I’ve known Rob for some time now. I’ve worked with him. He’s someone that’s always impressed me as a very thorough teacher, as a very detailed and energetic on the field coach and he’s someone who has very strong relationships with his players,” Judge said during the offseason.
“Rob’s an excellent teacher. He’s a great, high-energy coach. Very detailed on the field. His guys respond to him. I’ve watched him develop a number of players at different places.
“His ability to teach, his ability to establish relationships with his players and the response he gets from his guys and how they play on the field that to me they all just line up to be the best fit for us.”
Others have also lauded the 41-year-old Sale’s ability to develop players. He has coached at Louisiana at Lafayette, Arizona State, Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia, McNeese State and Alabama.
What’s the secret sauce?
Media had its first opportunity to talk with Sale on Thursday at Giants camp. I took the opportunity to ask Sale what, in his mind, was the key to developing players.
Turns out, it’s nothing fancy or revolutionary. Sale has what might be described as a ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid’ philosophy of developing offensive linemen.
“You’ve just got to ingrain in them doing the same thing over and over and over. There’s going to be some good days you take a step forward and days you take a step backward,” Sale said. “I believe in doing the same drills, I’ve got a handful of drills run and pass, and doing it over and over and over and over and over again until we master it. I believe in a small handful of drills and keep doing it over and over again. I’ve been able to develop offensive linemen. Offensive line is a developmental position. We’ve got a good group to do that.”
Sale admitted that some of what he is asking players to do is different than what Colombo or DeGuglielmo wanted.
“Technique in some areas are different. Everybody has a different technique, philosophies,” Sale said. “Obviously you’re always trying to fight every single day on technique. Getting your footwork, keeping your base tight, squeezing your knees and ankles, getting your hands inside.
“Not a whole lot changed. Just a little different word keys. When those guys hear ‘em they know what I’m asking, what I’m expecting, what we’re asking them to do.”
“Five equals one”
In the glory days of the Giants’ offensive line, the combination of David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie was better collectively than individually.
Sale is hoping to build that kind of cohesiveness.
“[I] want a guy that’s smart, tough, plays physical. That’s what you ask for. That’s who I like to think I was as a player,” Sale said. “We say ‘Five Equals One.’ A group that’s going to be gritty, plays hard, plays tough, finish to the echo of the whistle and do everything that’s demanded of them to do. But, we’re gonna be a group that plays freakin’ hard.”
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett believes the group is improving.
“I think we made progress over the course of last year. We had a lot of young guys playing for us who just simply were inexperienced, and I think over the course of the year you saw them grow and develop. Again, it’s the same thing we talked about with Daniel [Jones], if you approach it the right way, you get your mind right and your spirit right to come out and practice and get better every day, you’re going to improve,” Garrett said. “So, we try to put those guys in those situations and they’re responding well. We have a long way to go, every guy individually and certainly as a unit, but they’re going about it the right way.”
Will it work this time?
As I said above, many have tried to put this Humpty Dumpty offensive line back together again. Multiple head coaches and offensive line coaches. Two general managers. A plethora of highly-drafted players and expensive free agents.
It is still broken, ranked by Pro Football Focus as the worst offensive line in the NFL entering the season.
The Giants, though, are all in with the group they have. There are four Gettleman draft picks. — left tackle Andrew Thomas (Round 1, No. 4 overall), right tackle Matt Peart (Round 3), right guard Will Hernandez (Round 2), left guard Shane Lemieux (Round 5). Center Nick Gates is a former undrafted free agent signed by the current regime. Nate Solder is what remains of the massive free-agent splurge of 2018.
Per reporters on the scene the last couple of days, the line has not inspired confidence. Too many false starts and too much pressure allowed. To be fair, the injury to Lemieux and the unexpected retirements of Joe Looney and Zach Fulton have the group in a bit of disarray right now.
Will Sale be the one to bring the Giants’ offensive line back to at least respectability, if not the glory days of the Super Bowl years?
“It’s obviously a great opportunity. I cherish the opportunity, I don’t take anything for granted. New York Giants is a great organization. Yes, me and Joe [Judge] have history and a track record together going back to Alabama, and we always stayed in contact,” Sale said.
“I’ll work hard for him, I’ll work hard for the Giants, I’ll work hard for this staff and I’m appreciative of it.”