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Big Blue View mailbag: Offensive line, Nate Ebner, Ifeadi Odenigbo, more

The mail’s here!

The New York Giants are off for the weekend. We will find some time to relax here at Big Blue View, as well, but there is no off switch on Giants’ fans desire for content about their favorite team. So, we will keep cranking it out.

As we always do on Saturday’s it is time to answer some questions via the Big Blue View Mailbag. So, let’s get to it.

Gino Phillips asks: One can’t argue the value of trading DL depth for OL depth/help. My question comes down to wasn’t the Bengals OL guilty of not protecting Burrow very well last year? If so, is Price’s ability in question also, given that he could not crack their starting lineup?

I thought he was a good prospect coming out of college as well.

Ed says: It is absolutely true that the Cincinnati Bengals did not have a good offensive line in 2020, and there is no guarantee they will have a good one in 2021. Pro Football Focus ranked the Cincinnati offensive line No. 30 last season (the Giants were 31st). Football Outsiders had the Giants 21st in Adjusted Line Yards, it’s run-blocking stat, and 27th in Adjusted Sack Rate.

The one thing the Bengals did feel they had along the offensive line was depth at center. Trey Hopkins has graded very well per PFF since taking over for Price a couple of seasons ago. Cincinnati also drafted Trey Hill in Round 6 and apparently the Bengals like what they see. They took advantage of a position where they felt they had a surplus to add a player in B.J. Hill they think can help their defensive line.

For what it’s worth, reports from NFL insiders were that Cincinnati had a number of teams in play for Smith.

Sometimes players just need a change of scenery. I’m not sure that’s the case with Price, but evaluators I trust think he can still be a capable to above average center. He also has guard experience, and he is still only 26 years old. He provides better depth than the Giants had, and might even give them the option of moving Nick Gates if he shows them enough.

ctscan123 asks: Like most Giants fans, I am pretty upset about the O line play against The Patriots. I’ve been holding my breath since we passed on [Rashawn] Slater and I’m starting to turn blue. Not in a good “BigBlue“ way. What do you think about kicking the tires on Mitchell Schwartz?

Ed says: CT, I think a couple of things. I think Schwartz would be the best right tackle on the Giants. However, Schwartz only played six games last season and underwent back surgery. I think that if he could pass a physical right now he would already be on a roster somewhere.

I also think Schwartz will never be a Giant. Giants fans should recall that his brother, Geoff, was for a couple of seasons. I don’t think there is much love between Geoff Schwartz and the Giants organization, and I doubt Geoff would recommend it to his brother.

As for Rashawn Slater, I loved the kid after studying his work at Northwestern a year ago. I certainly would have been happy had the Giants stayed at No. 11 and selected him, rather than trade down and select Kadarius Toney at No. 20. Right now, Slater would look good for the Giants at either left guard or — more likely in my view — right tackle.

The biggest gamble the Giants have taken, and the preseason hasn’t made it look like a winning roll of the dice, was with their offensive line. If they end up being wrong about the young players they have, the season will undoubtedly go sideways.

All of that said, I supported the move down and I’m not ready to abandon that stance. Remember, it was a four-for-one swap, left the Giants with an extra pick to maneuver with in 2021 and leaves with two additional early picks (including two first-rounders) next year. Let’s see what Toney brings when he’s healthy.

Ian Pisarcik asks: It seems to my untrained eye that one of Daniel Jones’ biggest flaws is his lack of pocket awareness. Have you witnessed the Giants coaching staff working to address this? For example, have you noticed an unusual number of “pocket presence” drills during practice (whatever those might be). I’m just hoping you can pull back the curtain a little with respect to how the coaches have attempted to address this and other issues.

Ed says: Ian, there are drills that teams do with quarterbacks to emphasize ball security and pocket awareness. You see them have coaches or staff members swipe at the ball, simulate coming from the outside or just having quarterbacks work on stepping up in the pocket after making their drop.

Mark Schofield could address this better than I can, but he and I have talked about it. There is a certain amount of pocket presence or awareness that is purely instinct or feel and cannot be taught. You have to be able to “feel” the rush without seeing it. That is something no amount of drill work is ever going to change. Watch Tom Brady slide in the pocket. He has that feel. Eli Manning had it. Many great pocket quarterbacks have had it.

I’m not sure Jones has it. What Jones can continue to get better at is learning the offense, learning to read defenses, learning his receivers and making faster decisions. If he does that, the pass rush will bother him less often — even if he doesn’t necessarily feel it.

Matt Totaro asks: Ed, I am trying to grasp why the Giants, or more specifically Judge, wants to bring Nate Ebner back. Everything that Judge says is he wants versatility/Swiss Army knives, out of his players and Ebner doesn’t offer that. When he was forced to play defense last year he was exposed and exploited. Does Ebner bring that much to the table that on special teams he is more valuable than a younger player they can work on developing and use situational if needed?

Ed says: Matt, you are sort of preaching to the choir. I never really supported the decision to bring in Nate Ebner last year. I thought swapping Michael Thomas, a really good special teams player and a better defensive back than Ebner, for the former Patriot was a net loss for the Giants. I think that proved out when the Giants’ lack of secondary depth forced them to use Ebner on defense.

That said, I understood why Joe Judge wanted Ebner on the roster last season. Ebner is a guy who played really well on special teams for Judge in New England for a long time. Judge respects him as a player and as a leader. He felt Ebner could come in, help the special teams, and help him get his program off the ground in New York. That is the kind of thing new coaches do — they bring in some players they have had success with to help them get started.

Having multiple players whose primary role is on special teams is a very New England thing to do. For years, the Patriots had Ebner and Matthew Slater, along with probably a few other guys.

Judge may insist on finding a place on the roster for Ebner at some point. Right now, I’m not sure it’s necessary. Keion Crossen and Cullen Gillaspia are already on the roster as special teamers first. Once other teams realize what a monster he is on punt and kickoff coverage, Cam Brown could make Pro Bowls as a special teamer. So, to my eyes, the Giants already have several of those ‘special teams first’ guys.

I’m not sure they need another one. Still, I’m well aware that if Ebner’s football career continues it is almost certainly going to be playing for Judge with the Giants.

Christopher Keller asks: I’ve read that building the offensive line at the 53 man roster deadline was something that Dave Gettleman had planned all along. He let Zeitler go to use that money in other areas and used his draft picks in other areas knowing all along he would build his line at the deadline. His computer team/analytical guys have shown him that this is the best way to build an offensive line. Analytics has worked quite well for baseball teams like the A’s, Rays and Astros but I didn’t know that the Giants were at the forefront of this in the NFL. I think Gettleman enjoys being portrayed as old-school when he’s really just the opposite. I also read that Judge never had any intention of playing Barkley, Golladay and Toney in pre-season as he wanted to keep the new offense under wraps and that it will all be on display in the 1st game. Do you have any other insight into this?

Ed says: Christopher, I’m not sure what you’re reading and where you’re reading it, but I need to dive in here and clarify a few things.

Gettleman “planned” to build the offensive line at the 53-man roster cutdown. This is nonsense. The Giants planned, rightly or wrongly, the entire offseason to go with the young line of Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Will Hernandez and Matt Peart. They had Nate Solder, Zach Fulton, Kyle Murphy penciled in as backups, and added Joe Looney near the start of camp.

Murphy got hurt. Fulton and Looney retired. What Gettleman said about replacing that depth was that the Giants would get where they needed to be by the start of the season. What he meant by that was that the quality of players who would be available would be better after teams cut their rosters to 53 than before. That was always going to be the case, and since those cuts the Giants have been active in adding offensive line depth. No one plans to build their line a week before the season starts.

The Giants did let Kevin Zeitler go because they were up against the salary cap in a year where the cap actually went down, and they had confidence in their evaluations of the young players. And, yes, they needed money to go after Kenny Golladay, Adoree’ Jackson and Kyle Rudolph.

Dave Gettleman and analytics. I do not believe that the Giants are at the “forefront” of analytics in any way, shape, or form. I do believe strongly that Gettleman is not as unaware of all of the modern data as he seems to want people to believe.

I don’t have any idea what anyone who says analytics show the best way to build an offensive line is to do so the week before the season is talking about. Again, reality is there are more and better players available after 53-man roster cuts than before, when rosters are at 80-90 players. That’s common sense, not analytics.

Judge and preseason playing time. Not playing guys to keep the “new offense” under wraps? C’mon, now! First of all, nobody shows all their cards in the preseason. It is played in a very vanilla fashion without game plans, without showing the wrinkles, the trick plays, etc. Much of what is done and called in the preseason is for the express purpose evaluating players.

Barkley is coming off a major knee injury. He was NEVER going to take a snap this preseason. He didn’t play in the preseason last year. He may never take another preseason snap in his career.

I don’t know if Golladay and Toney would have played in the preseason. I am guessing that if the Giants played Daniel Jones in Week 3, which they did, that Golladay and Toney would have played a little bit. But, both guys are hurt. Neither one of them really practiced at all in training camp.

Do you really think the Giants didn’t practice or play them to try and hide something? That’s ridiculous. They weren’t available. All the work they missed doesn’t help the Giants at all.

As for the first game, you aren’t all of a sudden going to see the second coming of the Greatest Show on Turf or Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Let’s just hope that between all the time injured guys have missed and the uncertain state of the offensive line that you see something that looks competitive.

Bill Garbasz asks: Ed, in regards to cutting Odenigbo, wouldn’t it seem that with proper scouting they would of known that he wasn’t a fit in their base 3 man package? What is interesting to me is the fact that Graham who has been crowned a defensive guru on BBV for his use of personnel last year and being flexible to run multiple fronts and defenses that there wasn’t fit for him, given the lack of sacks by the team save for LWill. This also seems contradictory to Judges mantra of - don’t tell me what a player can’t do, tell me what he can do (paraphrasing a bit). True?

My assumption is that it is less about scheme fit and that he just got beat out for the pass rush specialist job, which will probably fall to Ximines. Do you agree?

Ed says: Bill, I think there are a couple of layers to the answer when it comes to the Giants not keeping Ifeadi Odenigbo.

I do think “fit” was part of it. To me, Odenigbo is a Markus Golden type player who is more comfortable with his hand in the ground or, when standing up, going forward. The Giants like those versatile pieces who can also drop into space at least occasionally.

Do I think they made a mistake in their evaluation? Not really. I think there were health questions about Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Free agency comes before the draft, so Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith (and now Quincy Roche) were not Giants yet. They needed pass rush help, and Odenigbo is a fairly young player who had 10.5 sacks the past two seasons.

In the end, Carter and Ximines look healthy. Ojulari is likely to play a lot of snaps. Smith is currently on IR, but will eventually be taking up a roster spot. The Giants might have stumbled onto something with Roche. Even Trent Harris, who is on the practice squad, has the versatile skill set Patrick Graham likes.

I think someone was always going to lose in the competition at a deep position. At the beginning of camp I thought that might be Ximines. In the end, it was Odenigbo. Take it as a good thing that the Giants were actually able to cut a good player.