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Better or worse: Giants’ offensive line should improve in 2023

Evan Neal and John Michael Schmitz hold the keys to hoped-for progress

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NFL: DEC 18 Giants at Commanders
Giants offensive line coach Bobby Johnson.
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants have been trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube that has been their struggling offensive line for a decade, probably more. Three general managers — Jerry Reese, Dave Gettleman, and now Joe Schoen have tried. Five head coaches — Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur, Joe Judge, and now Brian Daboll — have been part of the process.

Let’s look at where things stand entering the 2023 season.

Key losses: Jon Feliciano, Nick Gates
Key additions: John Michael Schmitz

Why the Giants might be better

The Giants finished 30th in the final 2022 offensive line rankings from Pro Football Focus. They were 24th in both run- and pass-blocking DVOA. That after years of high draft choices, free agent signings, new GMs, head coaches, and a parade of offensive coordinators and offensive line coaches.

Certainly, the Big Uglies up front for the Giants have played too much ugly football for too long. Yet, behind last season’s loom reasons for optimism entering the 2023 season. The makings of a quality offensive line are there ... if things go the way the organization hopes they will.

Andrew Thomas was a second-team All-Pro in 2022 and is one of the game’s premier left tackles. Mark Glowinski, a Schoen free agent signing last season, is a competent player who should be fine holding down right guard. The left guard might be Ben Bredeson. Or, it might be any of a plethora of other candidates. The result should be competent, or better, play from that spot.

The Giants will be better if right tackle Evan Neal shows the hoped-for improvement in his second season and if rookie center John Michael Schmitz is ready to be the player the Giants think he can be.

Here is some of the virtual ink we have spilled discussing Neal this offseason:

We know that Neal spent his offseason working to become more comfortable at right tackle after switching positions every season since enrolling at Alabama. We know he was hurt much of the time last season. We know the Giants drafted him No. 7 overall in 2022 because they think he can be much better than the player we saw last season.

Now, we just have to find out if Neal can take steps toward proving Schoen right.

At center, Jon Feliciano gave the Giants exactly what they hoped he would in 2022. He was an adequate veteran stop-gap starter who bought the Giants a year to find the player they hope will end their year-by-year merry-go-round at the position.

Over the last couple of years, we have seen rookie centers step in and play well quickly. Tyler Linderbaum, drafted 25th overall by the Baltimore Ravens, started all 17 games for Baltimore last season and finished with an excellent 74.6 PFF grade. Creed Humphrey, drafted 63rd by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021, started all 17 games as a rookie and was a second-team All-Pro last season.

Can Schmitz replicate that kind of success?

Offensive line coach Bobby Johnson isn’t ready to go there.

“For him, from a mental standpoint, [the] learning curve is minimal,” Johnson said. “Very intelligent kid. He’s a quick study; he works really hard at it.

“There’s going to be a physical learning curve that we won’t know until we get to training camp.”

If Schmitz can follow in the footsteps of Humphrey and Linderbaum, that will bode well for the future of the Giants’ offensive line.

Pro Football Network ranks the Giants’ offensive line No. 29 entering the season. If things go well, they could be significantly better than that.

Why the Giants might be worse

They shouldn’t be worse. It is July, though, and training camp hasn’t begun. There is no way to know what actually will happen.

Schmitz could show he’s not ready, leaving the Giants with a hole at center. Neal could show he’s not an NFL tackle. Glowinski could decline. None of the multitude of left guard options could work out.

To me, Neal’s progress is first and foremost. If he cannot play at least competently at right tackle, the Giants will be unable to fully utilize all that speed and play-making ability they collected for their passing game.

If Schmitz isn’t ready, that could cause a domino effect. If the Giants don’t think J.C. Hassanauer is a starting center, that means Bredeson goes to center. That, of course, impacts left guard — where Bredeson enters camp as the starter. Is Josh Ezeudu ready? If not, what is Shane Lemieux? Playing Marcus McKethan, Jack Anderson, or Wyatt Davis at that spot probably isn’t the best-case scenario.

Final thoughts

The line “should” be better. I believe Neal will improve. Feliciano was adequate last season, and it will be a disappointment if Schmitz isn’t at least that.

As much as I spent some time pointing out doomsday scenarios, the depth appears to be better. When was the last time you looked at the Giants and thought they might end up cutting competent offensive linemen? That could be the case this time.

So, I believe 2023 will show progress.