Monday, April 7, 2014
Five lingering questions: The offensive line
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we kick it off with:
Did they do enough to improve the offensive line?
The Giants signed Geoff Schwartz to start at left guard and J.D. Walton apparently to start at center. They also signed guard/tackle John Jerry and tackle Charles Brown for depth. They lost Kevin Boothe, who started all 16 games for them last year at either center or guard, and Jim Cordle and David Baas, who were the other two centers they used in 2013. David Diehl retired. Veteran Chris Snee decided to come back after missing the bulk of 2013 following a second hip surgery (one on each hip!) in two years. So the projected starting offensive line looks like this:
Brown and Jerry are on the bench as backups with a good amount of starter experience in the NFL. Either could play tackle if Beatty doesn't make it back in time for camp or Week 1 from the broken leg he suffered in the final game of 2013. Jerry could play guard if Snee can't answer the bell. The backup center, in the event that Walton can't get healthy or get the job done, appears to be Dallas Reynolds, but that may be a spot where they do some more work before it's all said and done. Brandon Mosley could factor in at some point, and they still have James Brewer for a snap or two if they need him, but those guys may have to fight for roster spots in camp.
The issue, to me, is not how much they've done but how far they had to come. If you count a healthy Snee as an "addition," which I think is fair since he played only three games last year, then you can say they turned over three of the five starting spots. They needed to, but they weren't just below-average on the offensive line last year. The Giants' 2013 offensive line was a season-sinking wreck, one of the absolute worst in the entire NFL. Improving isn't enough, because they could improve dramatically from last year and still be below-average.
There are still questions at three of the five spots. Snee is 32 and has had surgery on each hip, no guarantee to be able to handle a full workload. Walton hasn't played since September of 2012 because of an ankle injury and wasn't very good prior to that as the Broncos' starting center. Beatty is a question mark not just because of his leg but because he was terrible in 2013 in his first full season as a starting left tackle. Even Pugh has to be looked at as a question mark, because he's only one year into his career. He played better in 2013 than expected, but there are aspects of his pass protection work that need improvement, and his continued development will determine the extent to which they can count on him short-term and long-term. That makes Schwartz, the new guy, the most solid-looking part of this whole thing. And that's unsettling.
It's hard to imagine the Giants being any worse on the offensive line than they were in 2013. And the additions of Jerry and Brown are smart because one of their biggest problems last year was a lack of capable backups once the starters got hurt. Whatever else Jerry and Brown were in their previous stops, their experience is something the Giants' line reserves didn't have in 2013. So if the starters can't get it done this year, the Giants have reason to believe the dropoff won't be as bad.
My question is whether the starting five is good enough, and my first inclination is to say no, and expect that they will have to work on it again next offseason to get it all the way right. There's no shame in this. The amount of work that needed doing in this area was significant, and to fix all of the problems in one month is not a realistic goal. But I don't think you can look at the Giants' offensive line and expect that it'll be a strength of the team in 2014.