The New York Giants are, once again, staring at the idea of spending an offseason desperately trying to figure out how to put together a competent offensive line.
Jerry Reese tried. Dave Gettleman tried. Joe Schoen is trying. Yet, it has been more than a decade since you could truthfully use the words “good” and “offensive line play” in the same sentence when talking about the Giants.
Let’s review 2023 and look ahead to 2024.
2023 in review
Starters (technically): LT Andrew Thomas, LG Justin Pugh, C John Michael Schmitz, RG Ben Bredeson, RT Evan Neal
The rest: Tyre Phillips, Marcus McKethan, Matt Peart, Mark Glowinski, Josh Ezeudu (IR), Shane Lemieux (IR), Jaylon Thomas
A complete mess. That is the only way to describe the Giants’ 2023 offensive line.
The Giants cut Phillips, a perfectly acceptable multi-position backup before the season started. Then, during the season injuries forced them to pluck him off the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad.
Thomas got hurt in Week 1, missed seven games, and the Giants did not have an adequate backup left tackle.
The Giants started nine different offensive line combinations, eight of those in the first nine games.
PFF ranked the Giants 30th in the league in run blocking and 32nd, last, in pass blocking. The Giants’ lowest 10 individual PFF grades were recorded by offensive linemen.
All of that resulted in offensive line coach Bobby Johnson, who came to the Giants from the Buffalo Bills with head coach Brian Daboll, being fired.
Good luck, Carmen Bricillo! You are going to need it.
Bricillo, the newly-hired offensive line coach will try and succeed where Mike Solari, Hal Hunter, Marc Colombo, Dave DeGuglielmo, Rob Sale and Johnson failed. That list is every Giants’ offensive line coach since Pat Flaherty exited stage left with Tom Coughlin after the 2015 season.
None of them could build the Giants into anything closely resembling a good offensive line.
The Giants, have not had an offensive line that finished in the top half of the Pro Football Focus rankings since 2012, when that group (LT Will Beatty, LG Kevin Boothe, C David Baas, RG Chris Snee, RT David Diehl) ranked No. 11.
Since 2016, the line has ranked as follows:
2016 (20th); 2017 (20th); 2018 (21st); 2019 (17th); 2020 (31st); 2021 (30th); 2022 (30th); 2023 (30th).
Can Bricillo put Humpty Dumpty together again? That might not even be an apt analogy since none of the players listed above has ever played on a good Giants’ offensive line. It’s been broken for a long time, and took a significant nose dive beginning with the Joe Judge era.
There are only three certainties about the Giants’ offensive line in 2024:
- Andrew Thomas will be the left tackle.
- John Michael Schmitz will be the center.
- The rest of the line is a grab bag. There is no way to know who the other starters will be, or going even further what the depth will look like.
Once again, good luck, Carm!
The biggest question involves the future of Evan Neal. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft has had two disastrous seasons with the Giants. Is right tackle not the proper NFL position for him? Judging from his “stepped out of the womb as a tackle” comment near the end of the season, Neal won’t willingly shift to guard. Did Johnson do a poor job in trying to develop Neal? Maybe. You can argue that none of the four offensive linemen drafted by GM Joe Schoen improved with Johnson coaching the offensive line.
Can or should Neal even be penciled in as a starter?
Starting guards Justin Pugh and Ben Bredeson are free agents. Will either be brought back? Pugh, 33, provided leadership after being signed midseason, but didn’t play well. Bredeson is probably a guard/center backup.
Tyre Phillips, who started in place of an injured Neal for much of the season, suffered a torn quad in Week 17 that required surgery. When he would be available next season is a question mark. He is also a free agent.
Backups Matt Peart and Shane Lemieux are free agents who don’t figure to be back. Mark Glowinski, banished to the bench after Week 1 and played only when necessary in 2023, is likely to be cut in a salary cap move.
What can the Giants get out of 2022 draft picks Josh Ezeudu, injured much of the last two years, and Marcus McKethan? I have no idea. I don’t think the Giants do, either.
Before the Giants enter free agency or the draft, they have to make some decisions on which of their current players they can go forward with. And, whether Neal will be given a third — and likely final — chance to prove he can be a competent tackle.
Offensive line, where the top two tackles are Olu Fashanu of Penn State and Joe Alt of Notre Dame, could be a consideration at No. 6 in the draft. Free agent acquisitions are also possible (likely?), but that has not been a panacea for the Giants’ offensive line woes in recent years.
If Thomas, who missed several weeks with a hamstring injury and that reportedly played through an MCL sprain, is healthy that would be a huge first step toward helping the line.
No matter who joins him and Schmitz, if Bricillo can get something like pre-Judge era middle of the pack play or better that would be a welcome change.