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Big Blue View mailbag: ‘Hard Knocks,’ Evan Neal, Tommy DeVito, more

The mail’s here!

The questions just keep rolling in to the Big Blue View mailbag despite, or maybe because of, the awful season the New York Giants are having. Let’s answer some.

Also, check the YouTube video in the middle of the post for answers to a few more questions.

Frederick H. Humphrey asks: Hi, I’m a long-time reader and first time writing in, I’ve been a Giants fan since the late 60s early 70s. The last two games I’ve noticed the Giants trying to run up the middle in the first half with no success, the only run that gained any yardage were jet sweeps or tosses to the outside. In the second half they come running the tosses to the outside and the go for good gains and they seem to open up lanes for cutbacks up the middle. My question is why can’t they start with tosses to the outside? It seems to spread out the defense opening holes in the middle which in turn makes the play action pass game more effective.

Ed says: Frederick, welcome to the festivities. The difference in running inside vs. getting to the edge, especially Sunday against the Commanders, is an astute observation. From Next Gen Stats, here is a look at the breakdown:

Against Dallas in Week 10, it looked like this:

I have long thought that getting Saquon Barkley to the edge was a better idea than slamming him into the middle. That said, there are ways using motion, formation and blocking scheme to open things up in the middle.

As coach Brian Daboll said on Monday about Barkley, “it’s always a good thing when he’s in space.”

Teams spend considerable time studying and planning during the week, but they always probe a little at the beginning of a game.

“You have to, you gotta feel for how the game’s going,” Daboll said last Sunday in regards to calling plays and making adjustments. “Usually takes about a quarter to go ahead and decide exactly what you want to do.”

In other words, you might think certain thinks will work but as a game progresses it may not unfold that way. The key is to be able to do what the Giants did Sunday — adjust when things don’t work and find something that does.

Erick Voronin asks: The Giants are clearly in rebuild mode. Missing the playoffs this year and quite possibly next year would qualify them to be on HBO’s Hard Knocks in 2025. We have all heard the pushback, most recently from the Jets this past year, not wanting to reveal what really happens behind the curtain. However I would love to see some of the back stories, their home lives and just getting the inside look of the organization. There’s plenty of big personalities that would make for great television. Are you with me, and how would you think the team and organization would feel if they were selected?

Ed says: Confession time. I don’t think I have ever watched an episode of ‘Hard Knocks’. You might think I’m weird, but it doesn’t interest me at all. If the Giants were ever on it, and I’m still covering the team, I would have to watch. Otherwise, not on my radar.

As for the Giants and ‘Hard Knocks’, I can guarantee you that co-owner John Mara wants nothing to do with that spotlight. Partially because he would rather the Giants weren’t eligible, but also because it is simply not a spotlight Mara wants.

Here is what Mara said about the Giants appearing on ‘Hard Knocks’ when he was asked way back in 2010:

“That announcement will come,” he said, “when I’m next to my father in Gates of Heaven cemetery.”

Mara is still upright. If he can prevent the Giants being on ‘Hard Knocks’, I would expect that is exactly what he would do.

Frank O. asks: I’m expecting to get eviscerated here but I think Evan Neal can still be a legit tackle. Clearly needs better footwork and other development beyond the Giants coaching but the guy has off the charts physical skills which is why he was rated so highly. My question is, why does McKethan get the “not ready yet” pass but Neal does not? Neal is what, 23 years old and going up against 30-year-old men. Read he played through an ankle injury last year as well.

Ed says: Frank, we have talked about Neal and whether or not he actually has “off the charts physical skills.” He never tested at the Combine or his Pro Day, so he never proved or disproved his physical skills with testing numbers. I’m not buying the “23 years old going up against 30-year-olds” stuff. He’s a strong 350-pound man and at this point he’s had a lot of NFL reps.

Now, Neal vs. McKethan. Neal is a first-round pick, No. 7 overall, and has been a starter since the day he showed up at 2022 rookie camp. He played the highest level of collegiate competition there is at Alabama. He has gotten first-team reps and played in a lot of games. He missed time with a knee injury last year and I do believe he played through some other injuries. For this discussion, that doesn’t matter.

As for McKethan, I don’t think saying he’s “not ready yet” is giving him a pass. He’s a fifth-round pick, which by its nature makes him a developmental player. He blew out his knee during last season’s Fan Fest at MetLife Stadium. That means he missed most of training camp and all of the preseason as a rookie. So, he got almost no on-field developmental time as a rookie. That matters.

To my recollection, McKethan wasn’t cleared to practice fully and take contact until the middle of training camp. Even then, the Giants limited his practice reps. I was there and can vouch for that. He played 20 preseason snaps in one game. He never practiced with the starters throughout the summer. So, a year of practice including half of this year’s training camp missed, 20 game snaps over two preseasons, zero reps with the first-team, finding himself starting — and struggling — in Week 2 of the NFL season.

I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t ready. His situation is in no way comparable to Neal’s.

Joe Dahrea asks: I strongly feel that most of our problems, even some of the injuries, come down to the fact that the brain trust left among the worst O-line in the NFL in tact (except for center) from last year, while shoring up almost every other asset of our game. Like rebuilding a house on a faulty foundation - just an accident waiting to happen. I don’t understand it. I also do not believe Jones or any quarterback or running back behind that line has a snowball’s chance of realizing their potential. I believe if our line were middling, we would have been a playoff team this year and our first- and second-string quarterbacks would still be playing. I would appreciate your comments on this.

Ed says: Joe, I’m going to take that in reverse.

Yes, Daniel Jones suffered his neck injury when he was hit by a defender who beat backup left tackle Josh Ezeudu. His season-ending torn ACL, though, was a non-contact injury. Maybe you can say Jones suffering that type of injury was inevitable with that offensive line, but the actual injury was non-contact. So, can’t directly blame the offensive line.

I have done this before, but I am again going to defend GM Joe Schoen. In two seasons, Schoen used a first-round pick (No. 7 overall) on Neal, a second-round pick on John Michael Schmitz, a third-round pick on Ezeudu and a fifth-round pick on McKethan. He used some of his limited financial resources in 2022 to sign Mark Glowinski.

Schoen has not ignored the offensive line. Far from it. He has put a lot of resources into it. Now, Neal has disappointed. Injuries have derailed the development of Ezeudu, McKethan and — to a lesser extent — Schmitz.

It is also reality that Andrew Thomas, an All-Pro caliber left tackle, has missed seven games and has been close to fully healthy in any game he has played in this season.

You can question, and I have done so in print, some of the decisions the Giants made this season in terms of which backup offensive linemen were and were not kept. It is, though, way off base to say that Schoen has not poured a lot of resources into the offensive line. It just, to this point, hasn’t paid off.

Jeff Newman asks: Ed, like most Giants fans I’m tired of O-line issues year in and year out. We’ve brought in free agents, used high draft picks, yet still the issues continue. If the Giants wanted to go out and grab whoever they determine to be the best o-line coach in the business, but he’s under contract with another team, is there a way to do that? I know teams have traded head coaches. Can the trade position coaches? What might that look like and is it realistic?

Ed says: Jeff, head coaches can be traded. The most recent example is Sean Payton being traded to the Denver Broncos by the New Orleans Saints. I have been unable to find an example of an assistant coach being traded.

An NFL team does not have to allow an assistant coach to interview for the same job he currently has with another team. If a team wants a defensive coordinator from another team what will happen is the team will offer that coach an additional title. An example is when Joe Judge hired Patrick Graham to be the Giants’ defensive coordinator. Graham had that job in Miami, so the Dolphins could have denied him permission to interview. The Giants added the ‘assistant head coach’ title, which — technically — made it a promotion for Graham. Teams will add things like ‘run game coordinator’ or ‘pass game coordinator’ to make the move a promotion.

Taj Siddiqi asks: It is being reported that Andrew Thomas is playing with a sprained MCL. Do you think it is wise to play him in this lost season? Why risk further injury to your most valuable player? Why not rest him until he is fully recovered?

Ed says: Taj, as important as Thomas is to the Giants I don’t think they would let him play if they felt there long-term risk.

I checked with Dr. Kyle Flik, an orthopedic surgeon in the upstate New York area who specializes in knee and shoulder injuries and has been the team doctor several minor league sports teams in the Albany area. Here is what he said:

“No real [risk of] long-term damage, just a risk for re-injury. It still can heal well as long as there is not an additional stress to it which would make the sprain worse and take longer to heal. The hinged knee brace can protect the MCL. If he’s able to play then it is likely a very mild sprain.”

Again, if this was considered a serious injury and the Giants felt Thomas was at risk he would not be playing. Players play through things all the time. Saquon Barkley is still dealing with his high ankle sprain. Bobby Okereke is playing with a fractured rib and a fractured finger. Darius Slayton has said he will play despite last week’s neck injury. Most players who have played a lot of snaps are dealing with something at this point in the season. It’s part of the job.

Bob Donnelly asks: Well, DeVito certainly did enough to earn the W!Belichick will undoubtedly plan to neutralize #26 and bring pressure on the young QB this Sunday.Hopefully the defense again shows up and Mr. DeVito can do enough to earn his 2nd W.

My question is, given the fact that the remainder of this season is about developing the young players, do you see any reason why the Giants shouldn’t name DeVito as the starter for the rest of the season?

Ed says: Bob, I gave my thoughts on this during a podcast this week. As things stand now, I would still start Tyrod Taylor. It’s about more than DeVito-Taylor. I get the ‘let’s see what the young kid has’ argument, but it’s about the rest of the roster. Which quarterback gives the rest of the roster a chance to develop — and win games? Right now, I would say that is a 13-year veteran who has played a lot of good football and was playing pretty well before getting injured rather than an undrafted rookie who has played one good NFL game.

As I said in the podcast, that could change if DeVito has another excellent game on Sunday and the Giants defeat the Patriots.

Eric Chavis asks: Do you think the course of this season would have been drastically different if the Giants played the Commanders Week 1 rather than the Cowboys? Just feels like that first week the Giants got the confidence knocked out of them (in addition to AT going down) and have just never really rebounded.

Ed says: Eric, it is an interesting thing to think about, but probably not. I do think the lopsided nature of the Week 1 loss to Dallas was a shock to the Giants that they never really recovered from. I doubt, though, that the order of opponents would have ended up making that much difference. There is clearly a large gap from the Giants to the better teams in the league.

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