New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen was, of course, asked several questions about the team’s woefully inadequate offensive line during his bye week press conference on Monday.
I touched on much of what Schoen said in a ‘takeaways’ post on Monday afternoon. I think it is worthwhile, though, to delve a little more deeply into a couple of the things that Schoen addressed.
Evan Neal’s future
Schoen was asked early in the press conference about Neal, the struggling second-year right tackle who is currently missing game and practice reps for the third time this season due to an injury (a training camp concussion and two in-season ankle injuries).
Schoen said that Neal “needs to play better. He knows that.”
The real question with Neal, though, is whether he will remain at right tackle beyond this season or whether his future will be inside at guard.
I followed the initial question about Neal with a more direct one regarding whether or not Schoen felt the Giants had reached that tackle-guard tipping point with Neal. Here is what he said:
Joe Schoen says the Giants are not thinking about moving Evan Neal from tackle to guard:— Giants Videos (@SNYGiants) November 27, 2023
"I went back and watched the Alabama stuff. The kid can play. We just got to get him to be more consistent." pic.twitter.com/CL952xV2LT
There are a lot of things to discuss in looking at that answer.
For me, the first is that Schoen has been concerned enough about what he has seen from Neal to go back and re-watch some of his college tape. That tells me Schoen has wondered if he got the evaluation of Neal wrong in deciding to make him the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and, if he didn’t get it wrong, why hasn’t the young man developed the way the Giants anticipated.
The second thing is not to expect to see Neal take snaps at guard whenever he does come back from his latest ankle injury. Honestly, I am OK with that.
The line is finally settling down somewhat with Justin Pugh and Ben Bredeson at the guards and a healthy John Michael Schmitz at center. To me, Tyre Phillips is still exactly what he was last season. A valuable player who can adequately fill in for stretches, but not a guy you want to count on as an every-week starter. Just a guess here, but if they need another guard before season’s end I don’t think they would mind getting more snaps for young Marcus McKethan.
The time Neal has missed this season — five games and a decent chunk of training camp — has been unfortunate. I think the Giants would still like to see Neal for the last four or five games and see if he can show them enough to make them believe he belongs on the outside.
What Schoen did not say is that the Giants would never consider moving Neal to guard, just that as of now they still think he can be a tackle. I do hope that Schoen is not heading down the same path with Neal that former GM Jerry Reese went down with Ereck Flowers.
It was obvious to everyone, except apparently Reese, after a single NFL season that Flowers, 10th overall pick by the Giants in the 2015 draft, was not an NFL left tackle. Still, mostly because Reese was unwilling to admit he was wrong about Flowers, he remained at left tackle with the Giants for three full seasons before moving to right tackle, then eventually being benched and cut when Reese was gone and Pat Shurmur and Dave Gettleman came on the scene.
I hope that Schoen is objectively trying to evaluate the player and not stubbornly trying to prove he made the right choice in the 2022 draft.
How the Giants see Neal has implications for the 2024 NFL Draft and free agency. If they see him as a guard do they target someone like Jonah Williams of the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency? Do they use an early first-round pick on someone like Olu Fashanu of Penn State or Joe Alt of Notre Dame? If they see him as a tackle, do they add a guard in the draft — maybe someone like Cooper Beebe of Kansas State or Donovan Jackson of Ohio State?
That’s why the more games Neal can get on the field for the remainder of the way the better.
The Andrew Thomas injury
Schoen said he didn’t want to make excuses for the team’s 4-8 record or the obviously poor play of the offensive line. The first thing he said, though, when asked what went wrong with the offensive line this was “Andrew Thomas getting hurt the first series of the [first] game of the season.”
Obviously, that was a major issue. Thomas labored through that first game against the Dallas Cowboys and then missed seven weeks with his hamstring injury.
What Schoen didn’t address was why the Giants reacted to Thomas’s injury the way they did. Why did the Giants use Josh Ezeudu, a player who couldn’t win a starting guard job his first two seasons, as the left tackle when he didn’t practice there all summer? Why did they have Matt Peart on the roster as a swing tackle if they didn’t have the faith to play him?
Schoen mentioned some of the offensive line shuffling, nine starting lineups in the first 11 games and 21 combinations overall through 12 games. Some of that was due to injuries, but some was also due to curious decisions he didn’t explain. Like yanking Mark Glowinski for Marcus McKethan after one game. Like starting Shane Lemieux in a game and benching Glowinski — again — when the latter had played well the previous week. Like cutting Phillips at the end of the preseason.
Schoen admitted that “when it’s a revolving door, it’s hard for the continuity and those guys to gel consistently.”
What I wish we had gotten some information on is why the Giants made some decisions that contributed to that revolving door.