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Big Blue View mailbag: Justin Pugh as a coach, Saquon Barkley, MetLife Stadium, more

The mail’s here!

Larry Jamieson asks: Justin Pugh may be at the end [of his] playing career, but he seems pretty smart and have leadership skills. Could he possibly be considered as an offensive line coach perhaps start as an assistant line coach and work his way up?

Ed says: Larry, I don’t see it. Not because Pugh would not be qualified or capable, but because I doubt it is something he wants to do. Over the years Pugh has spent a lot of time setting up his post-football career. It is something he is proud of and something he also does outreach to try to help other players with.

Pugh has a lucrative real estate career waiting for him. He is also personable, well-spoken, has launched his own podcast and probably could slide right in to a media career if he chooses.

Coaching? I don’t know why he would put himself through that grind when he has other viable options.

Joseph Dewey asks: I have heard and read a few times that Saquon Barkley goes in and comes out of the game as he pleases, a lot of the time it is 3rd down. He always talks about how he is a team player. It seems to me if he is such a team player he would stay in and try to get the 1st down, which the Giants need desperately. It also seems to me if he wants a new contract next year he would be playing his butt off, not standing on the sideline after one play. Maybe I am missing something, I haven’t been able to watch all the games.

I would like to know what is your take is on this?

Ed says: Joseph, let me put to rest this non-sensical notion that Barkley is being selfish or that he takes plays off when the Giants need him on the field. I have heard this a few times, and it’s not right.

Barkley has played 604 of 757 possible offensive snaps in the 12 games for which he has been healthy enough to play. That is 79.8% of the potential snaps, far more than most running backs play. The only running back in the league I have been able to find who has played a higher percentage of potential snaps than Barkley is Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers, who has played 82.78% of the 49ers snaps.

In an era of running back by committee, one guy playing basically 80% of the snaps is rare. Barkley is doing everything he can. Probably more than he should, considering where the Giants are in the standings.

Yes, he comes off the field sometimes on third down. No, he’s not asking to come off on that down. If he occasionally asks to come off it’s because he needs a couple of plays to catch his breath.

He gets taken off the field on third down at times to protect him from taking more hits. He isn’t a good pass blocker, and blocking onrushing linebackers or defensive linemen who are much bigger and stonger than running backs is a physical part of the job. Getting him off the field on some of those is a move designed to save a little wear and tear on his body.

This idea that he’s not playing his butt off, or is “standing on the sideline after one play” is a false narrative.

Greg Hart asks: Hello, Ed. There was a recent article about the worst NFL stadiums rated by the players. MetLife was identified as one of the top three. I recall that the turf was replaced this past off season. What is the problem with MetLife? Does the perceived stadium problems impact attracting free agents? Lastly, does the league or the NYG track injuries that are turf related, such as non-contact injuries?

Ed says: Greg, MetLife Stadium is a boring building that likely has a worse reputation among players than it deserves. It is in New Jersey, which loses it points from just about anyone who isn’t from New Jersey. The turf has long had a bad reputation. That may have been justified, but I will say for the umpteenth time that new turf was installed for the 2023 that is one of the newest forms of FieldTurf.

Players will always say they prefer grass, but those I have talked to during the season have said this turf is softer and more forgiving than what was previously installed. Players from other teams will complain, largely because of the previous turf’s reputation, but it really hasn’t been an issue.

The stadium doesn’t deter free agents. Remember, playing for the Giants puts guys in the New York City media market and opens up all kinds of opportunities for players with the ability to cash in.

Yes, injury data gets tracked by the league and the Player’s Association. Here are some results from a third party tracked from 2018-2021:

Sports Info Solutions data from 2017-2022 shows a 4.8% increase in injuries on turf.

Players will always beg for grass — until they get on a horrible grass field where it is virtually impossible to keep your footing. We have never seen that happen before, have we?

John Foti asks: Easy one for you. Looking back at Joe Schoen’s first draft, who has disappointed, who has surprised you, and who has progressed as expected?

Let’s exclude Evan Neal because that is an obvious one that has gotten plenty of discussion and let’s exclude players who missed their entire rookie season due to injury like Marcus McKethan.

Ed says: John, for the record here is the entire 2022 Giants’ draft class:

  • Oregon Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5 overall)
  • Alabama OT Evan Neal (No. 7 overall)
  • Kentucky WR Wan’Dale Robinson (No. 43 overall)
  • North Carolina OG Joshua Ezeudu (No. 67 overall)
  • LSU CB Cor’Dale Flott (No. 81 overall)
  • San Diego State TE Daniel Bellinger (No. 112 overall)
  • Iowa S Dane Belton (No. 114 overall)
  • Indiana LB Micah McFadden (No. 146 overall)
  • Arizona State DT DJ Davidson (No. 147 overall)
  • North Carolina G Marcus McKethan (No. 173 overall)
  • Cincinnati LB Darrian Beavers (No. 182 overall)

Obviously, Neal has been a disappointment. This, though, was a pretty good haul.

Thibodeaux is just 22 and developing into a terrific player, even if he has had a couple of quiet weeks recently. Flott (Round 3), Bellinger (Round 4) and McFadden (Round 5) are good, starting-caliber players. Davidson is a useful rotational defensive tackle.

I will never call a Day 3 pick like McKethan or Beavers a bust or a disappointment. Those are fliers and if you get decent production from them, that is a bonus. Ezeudu, a third-round pick, is the only player beyond Neal I would call a disappointment at this time.

RonSwansons AlterEgo asks: You will likely get several versions of this question this week, but I want to ask about Evan Neal in particular, but rehab and the medical staff in general.

Neal wasn’t put on IR until only a few weeks left in the season after missing many weeks. But during those 2 months, he was essentially week-to-week.

Now we know that he has an ankle injury of sufficient severity that it likely requires off-season surgery. Is this a miss by the Giants medical staff? Ankle surgery on someone of his size will take months of rehab and will likely mean he may not be ready for the start of the off season workouts. This is a young man who has missed valuable time and now will miss more. Instead of working with someone like Manyweather, he will be trying to rehab.

If you want to move him to LG or RG, that has to wait until you see if he is healthy, by which time the draft has happened. Are they looking for a Tackle or a Guard?

Seems like if surgery was needed, it was best had 6 weeks ago.

What am I missing in this story that makes it seem like the Giants were making personnel decisions either without great information or with wishful thinking.

Ed says: ‘Alter’ I have to believe that the Giants did not put Evan Neal on IR sooner because they believed he would be able to play at some point over the final three or four weeks of the season.

Remember the the early-season situation with Andrew Thomas? The Giants did not expect him to miss seven weeks with the Week 1 hamstring injury he suffered. He was back on the practice field Week 4 to see if he could play that week against the Seattle Seahawks. There was a setback when he practiced — which the Giants never actually fully admitted — and Thomas did not play until Week 9. Injured reserver requires a minimum of four missed games, and if the Giants knew Thomas would miss seven they certainly would have put him on IR.

In Neal’s case, I am guessing something similar happened. Neal’s first ankle injury cost him two weeks. I can’t imagine the Giants believed the second one would be season-ending. Neal was constantly in the weight room — I saw him there several times when I went to practice. There was a point in time after three or four weeks where he returned to the practice field. Then, after a couple of weeks of practicing he was shut down again.

There are now reports that when things didn’t go well when Neal tried to return to the field he was sent for a CT scan that revealed a tiny fracture. Whether the fracture was there initially or occurred later as he tried to return to action is unknown. I do know that if the Giants’ medical staff had thought surgery was necessary six weeks ago, it would have been done six weeks ago.

We have no idea how long the rehab will take. It is unfortunate for Neal, and for the team’s offseason planning. They now have to make a decision without as much information as they hoped to have.

I’m not going to sit here and rip the medical staff. We weren’t in on the exams. We weren’t on the field when Neal did practice. We don’t know what happened. All we know is it didn’t work out the way anyone thought it would.

Gino Phillips asks: Despite how this year has unfolded with untimely key injuries (exposing depth issues) and a much tougher schedule, I think it is not that far from what a reasonable rebuild plan for Schoen and Daboll would look like. What is your view on what continued progress on that plan might look like?

2024 playoff contenders?

2025 Playoff team, compete for their Division?

2026 Top 10 team or better with a deep shot into the playoffs?

I think that whatever growth scenario that they envision would be key to how they approach and view Saquon’s contract going forward.

Your thoughts?

Ed says: Gino, that looks nice on paper. Maybe in his dreams GM Joe Schoen pictures something like that. In reality, progress isn’t linear like that — as we’ve seen this season — and the NFL is a year to year proposition.

Teams do the best they can each season to build their roster to be better than it was the year before. In many ways I thought, and still think, the Giants managed to do that this season. The results, though, did not back up that assertion.

I think you just keep building. Each offseason you make what you think are the best decisions possible to help you now and set you up for what every team wants — the opportunity to be a legitimate contender more often than not.

As for Barkley, I think what they do comes down to whether or not the organization believes he can be a highly-productive player who will be worth the money they will need to pay him for the next two, three, four years. I don’t think it’s about a master plan of where they want to be in three years. It’s about whether or not they believe he contribute at a level that justifies the money for that long.

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