New York Giants: j.d. walton

Giants have a problem at guard

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
2:30
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In an offseason in which fixing the offensive line was the New York Giants' clear No. 1 priority, Geoff Schwartz was their first call.

They targeted Schwartz early and signed him as soon as free agency began. They viewed him not as a cure-all but as a foundation piece -- a reliable veteran whose presence at left guard would help make the rest of their line problems easier to solve.

So while injuries happen and you can't fault the Giants if Schwartz's toe injury keeps him out for a significant period of time, it is a major problem for them, and they may struggle more than you think to solve it.

Schwartz
 The "next man up," to borrow from strained NFL parlance, is rookie Weston Richburg, a second-round pick who played center in college but has been working throughout camp at guard behind Schwartz and Brandon Mosley. Richburg obviously has talent. There was some thought when he was drafted that he might be a better option at center than current projected starter J.D. Walton. But he's also a rookie, and even he admits he's not where he'd like to be at this point in his development.

"Oh, no," Richburg said Sunday morning. "If you're content with how you're playing, I think you're cheating yourself. I always want to get better. I made some mistakes in the last game that I know I need to correct."

He may have no choice but to correct them on the fly. The Giants don't like to lean on rookies as starters, but they showed last season with right tackle Justin Pugh that they will if they have no other choice. Pugh played well enough as a 16-game rookie starter that it worked out. Problem is, there's no guarantee that it will work out again. Even if Richburg is an eventual Pro Bowler, no one can be sure he'll develop as quickly as Pugh did.

"What I'm doing best right now is having a short memory," Richburg said. "If I make a mistake, just clap it off and go on to the next play and not let it affect me. I think I'm doing a good job of forgetting about it and just playing fast and continuing."

Great, but the issue is that the understandable rookie mistakes are happening, and that mistakes on the offensive line are hazardous to the health and effectiveness of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. This wouldn't be as serious a concern if left guard were the only spot at which there was concern. But the Giants have had pass-protection issues with Walton, Mosley and left tackle Will Beatty this preseason as well. Adding a still-green Richburg to the starting mix leaves Pugh as the surest commodity, and even he is a second-year player whose growing pains likely aren't all the way behind him. There are still talent evaluators around the league who view Pugh as a guard playing out of position and think the Giants' line will be better once he's moved inside, but at this point they don't have any better options at tackle.

No, the issue here continues to be depth, and that's a failing of the organization's offseason. They brought in John Jerry on the premise that he'd be a quality veteran backup should something happen at guard, yet after Chris Snee retired and Schwartz got hurt Jerry remains in a backup role while Richburg and Mosley line up with the starters. Charles Brown, signed as the veteran depth at tackle, played terribly in relief of Beatty early and is now hurt, which has resulted in Pugh having to take some left tackle snaps in practice with Mosley moved out to right tackle. Reserve guard/center Eric Herman is suspended for four games, and reserve guard/tackle James Brewer is hurt.

It's thin, folks, and it's still very thin at the interior positions that were supposed to be upgraded this year. There's a lot of book from last year on how easy and effective it is to pressure Manning from the A-gap, and if the Giants don't get things figured out in there, defenses aren't going to need to alter last year's plan very much to beat them. After all the work that was done in the offseason, the Giants' biggest 2014 problem may end up being exactly the same as the one that sunk them in 2013.

Practice report: More O-line shuffling

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
6:00
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For all of the very legitimate concern over the condition of Odell Beckham Jr.'s hamstring, the more pressing matter for the New York Giants with the season coming up quickly now is the state of the offensive line. The regular season begins in less than three weeks, and the Giants are still searching for the right starting-five combination of offensive linemen.

What's worse, the preseason has given them some reason to question whether they really are deeper on the line than they were during last season's meltdown.

The first-team line for Saturday's preseason game in Indianapolis was Will Beatty at left tackle, Geoff Schwartz at left guard, J.D. Walton at center, Brandon Mosley at right guard and Justin Pugh at right tackle. That's what it's been in practice since training camp started, and I think the Giants' ideal plan would be to feel good enough about that line to run it out there Week 1 in Detroit.

Problem is, Mosley has been inconsistent, Schwartz struggled a bit Saturday and Beatty's still recovering from (A) a broken leg and (B) a poor season, so they can't know what they have with him yet. He still needs to take practice reps off, and he did again Tuesday.

Now, the fill-in for Beatty earlier in camp was veteran Charles Brown, but he's got a shoulder injury now and was playing poorly even when healthy. With backup tackle James Brewer also hurt, the Giants tried something interesting Tuesday when Beatty had to come off the field. They moved Pugh from right tackle to left tackle, kicked Mosley out to right tackle and put rookie second-round pick Weston Richburg at right guard.

"They're all playing pretty much everywhere," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You always attempt to be creative and flexible."

The goal is to find the best combination of five and let it play and jell together. But it seems clear at this point that the Giants don't feel they've done that yet. They could elevate Richburg, who's played both guard spots and center this camp, to starting guard in place of Mosley and put him and Schwartz on either side, really. If they ended up having to move Pugh to left tackle, they could play Schwartz at right tackle, where he has some experience, and keep Mosley and Richburg as the guards. Richburg could yet overtake Walton at center, which is the position he played in college.

What's disappointing, after a year in which they scrambled for depth on the line, is the backup situation. Brown was terrible at left tackle, and John Jerry has been a non-factor so far at guard. These were the veterans the Giants signed with the hope that they'd have more experience behind the starters this year than they did last year. Brewer hasn't developed and is on the roster bubble. Promising guard/center Eric Herman is suspended for the first four games of the season for a drug violation. Injuries to starters on the offensive line have a chance to put the Giants right back where they were when it all fell apart early last season. And in case you don't remember, that wasn't good.

Some other thoughts from Tuesday's practice:
  • This was a "cards" day, with time spent in preparation for Friday's preseason opponent, the Jets, specifically. So for much of practice, for example, the Giants' offense was running Jets plays. Eli Manning in the pistol, etc. And there were times when it was the defense's job to simulate Rex Ryan's exotic blitz schemes. This is the one preseason game for which the Giants devise a game plan, and it'll be interesting to see whether that helps the first-team offense look better.
  • Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard managed to tip and pick off a Manning pass in 7-on-7 drills while the defense was in a Jets-specific look. He's a fun player to watch in practice, though the special-teams coaches continue to work with him on technique on the coverage teams.
  • The Giants have tried the past couple of days to get Mario Manningham more looks on the outside at wide receiver to evaluate him and his balky knee. He does not seem to be performing at a high level. You wonder whether they will start using Victor Cruz outside more if they're not going to have Beckham to start the season, or whether they'll leave Cruz in the slot and use someone like Marcus Harris or Corey Washington on the outside.
The expectation has been that Eli Manning and the New York Giants' starters would play one more preseason game -- this week against the Jets -- and sit out the preseason finale against the Patriots. That's the way teams tend to do things, and it's the way the Giants have done things in the recent past.

But the Giants' first-team offense has looked so bad so far this preseason that coach Tom Coughlin says it shouldn't assume it's getting that final preseason game off. Basically, he's challenging his first-teamers to show something this week.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesIn regards to not playing his starters, New York giants coach Tom Coughlin said "it's not written in stone about what you do in that last preseason game."
"They'd better," Coughlin said in his Sunday conference call. "Because it's not written in stone about what you do in that last preseason game."

Recall that the reason Coughlin put then-co-starting running back Andre Brown in the preseason finale last year in New England was because he didn't think Brown had played well enough and he wanted to see more from him. Brown broke his leg in that game and missed the first half of the season as a result, but that doesn't mean Coughlin won't run guys out there if he doesn't think they've played well enough to start the season.

As he had Saturday night, Coughlin praised the effort his second-team and third-team players made to score 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to come back and win their preseason game against the Colts in Indianapolis. But there's no disguising the concern Coughlin feels about the way his starters performed en route to a 20-0 halftime deficit.

"Anytime you set up a schedule in the preseason, you expect to be at certain points along the way," Coughlin said. "So, certainly, it's disappointing not to be at least a little bit more advanced than we are."

The Giants hired a new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, and have spent much of the offseason installing and learning a new offense. But it hasn't come together yet in practice or, obviously, in the games. Manning is 7-for-16 for 49 yards in the Giants' three preseason games and just 1-for-9 in the last two. It's entirely possible, with three weeks left until the start of the regular season, that the Giants' new offense will enter the season with more learning still to do.

"I don't know that there's any way to put it but that," Coughlin said. "The last few years, we've had what would have to be looked at as unproductive games in preseasons and we've still been able to come out and perform early on in regular seasons. But is it a concern? Yes it is."

In other news from Coughlin's day-after conference call with reporters:

  • Rookie Weston Richburg saw more time with the first-team offensive line Saturday and remains a candidate to start at right guard, where Brandon Mosley has taken the bulk of the first-team reps since Chris Snee retired. Coughlin pointed out that Richburg has played right guard, center and left guard in these games, so I guess you have to say he's also a candidate to start at center ahead of J.D. Walton. "Just because five guys trot out there doesn't mean that's the starting unit," Coughlin said. "It's a work in progress and we're trying like heck to speed that up, but we have to make sure we're looking at all the possibilities."
  • Ryan Nassib led the fourth-quarter comeback and could reclaim the No. 2 quarterback spot from Curtis Painter this week, though Coughlin also pointed out that the rally got started with Painter under center.
  • Backup safety Cooper Taylor suffered a serious toe injury and could end up on injured reserve as a result. Coughlin said it was a sesamoid bone injury that would require "quite a bit of time" to heal.
  • Cornerback Prince Amukamara was scheduled for an MRI on his injured groin and could have to miss some practice time. Unclear at this point whether the start of the regular season is at issue, but from what I understand the team is not overly concerned about Amukamara's injury.
  • Backup tackle Charles Brown has a shoulder injury and could miss some time. Defensive tackle Markus Kuhn hyperextended his elbow in the game, but Coughlin said Kuhn "for sure can deal with that."
Time to check out this week's batch of New York Giants #nygmail on Twitter ...

@DanGrazianoESPN: After you asked me this question Thursday morning, I asked Walter Thurmond whether he'd had the opportunity to sign a longer-term deal. He said he did, and that the Giants actually offered three years, but that he preferred to take one to keep himself hungry. Now, there are plenty of good reasons he might have wanted to do this. Cornerback salaries continue to escalate, the salary cap is due to rise again next year and a season playing in the New York media market can only help Thurmond's profile. And from the Giants' standpoint, they'll have first crack at him if they decide -- either during the season or right after it -- that they want to keep him for more than just one year. As long as he doesn't get hurt, Thurmond's in a good spot. And based on what we've seen in camp, he's a heck of a player. @DanGrazianoESPN: Well, no, but they have more than three weeks still to get ready, and I think that's an important thing to remember when reading my accounts (and other people's accounts) of what we're seeing in practice. This offense is still a work in progress, and that progress isn't and wasn't supposed to be completed by now. They only just completed the installation process Tuesday, which means there are still new schemes and plays they haven't practiced more than once or twice. We're in a making-of-the-sausage era of news and sports coverage, in which every step is documented and analyzed. The Giants are by no means ready to play a real game right now. The question is whether they can get themselves ready by Sept. 8. My personal hunch is that this offense will still be a work in progress when the season starts and will be running more smoothly in November than it runs in September. But I also still think the main concern is the quality of the personnel and/or the lack of depth at wide receiver, tight end, running back and on the offensive line. I think they're thin in too many places to really have a big year. @DanGrazianoESPN: I think there are legitimate question marks at every position. Can Will Beatty bounce back? (I think so.) Can Geoff Schwartz continue the improvement he showed last year in Kansas City? (Don't see why not.) Is J.D. Walton a legitimate NFL starting center who can push defenders off the line reliably? (Have my doubts.) Who the heck is the right guard? (Brandon Mosley right now, and he's been shaky.) Can Justin Pugh build on his strong rookie season, or is a sophomore slump coming? (No idea.) No matter how you answer them, the fact that there are so many questions is alarming, and likely indicative that it's not a strength of the team. As for rookie Weston Richburg, he looks like a guy who's learning. He's had a lot of reps at guard and center, and they're trying to get him up to speed quickly. I think there's a decent chance he passes Walton this year, but I also think it's more likely they work him at right guard, since that seems to be the bigger problem. @DanGrazianoESPN: Here's how I'd rank the position groups on paper: 1. Cornerback 2. Safety 3. Quarterback 4. Running back 5. Offensive line 6. Linebackers 7. Defensive line 8. Wide receivers 9. Tight ends Could be a long year, folks. Enjoy the game tonight. 

Giants Camp Report: Day 15

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
8:00
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:
  • Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. continues to make significant progress from the hamstring injury that has held him out of practice since the first day of camp. The team's first-round pick even took a couple of snaps Wednesday in 11-on-11 drills and caught a touchdown pass on one of them. Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't even rule out the possibility that Beckham could play in Saturday's preseason game in Indianapolis, though I have to think that's a long shot and that next Friday against the Jets is more likely.
  • Coughlin said left tackle Will Beatty and cornerback Trumaine McBride, who have been practicing but didn't play in the first two preseason games as part of the plan for their recoveries from offseason surgery, would play Saturday. He said to expect Beatty to play about as much as a starting offensive lineman would play in a first preseason game of the year. For comparison's sake, Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton played 20 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game, and right tackle Justin Pugh played 24.
  • Cornerback Walter Thurmond continues to dazzle, and I have to think it will be a huge relief for Giants slot receiver Victor Cruz to go up against whoever the Detroit Lions are using as a nickel cornerback Sept. 8 in Detroit. Thurmond's highlight plays Wednesday included a pass breakup on which he had tight end Larry Donnell blanketed over the middle and a stop on running back Rashad Jennings when Jennings caught a pass in the flat.
  • Other highlight plays: Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard knocking rookie running back Andre Williams to the ground in the backfield on a run play; Rueben Randle's acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in one-on-one goal-line drills; Rookie cornerback Bennett Jackson ripping the ball out of wide receiver Travis Harvey's hands at the end of a long pass play; Interceptions of Curtis Painter by Mark Herzlich and Chandler Fenner in early team drills.
  • Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan was back at practice after sitting out Monday and Tuesday with a knee injury. New to the list of injured players sitting out practice was cornerback Zack Bowman (unclear what his injury was). Also sitting out were running back Peyton Hillis (ankle), tight end Xavier Grimble (hamstring), tight end Daniel Fells (knee), return man Trindon Holliday (hamstring) and defensive tackle Mike Patterson (shoulder).
  • Cruz, who had some knee issues in practice this week, seemed completely fine and appeared to do everything in Wednesday's relatively short practice.
  • Though they will continue to practice here next week as they have been, Thursday marks the final official day of Giants training camp. That means Thursday's 1:20 pm practice will be the final practice of the year that is open to the public. So take off work and come out to say hi. Tell your boss I said it was okay.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants right guard Brandon Mosley pulled left and helped center J.D. Walton open up what Rashad Jennings would later call a "gaping hole." Jennings ran through it and all the way to the end zone, 73 yards for a touchdown on the Giants' second possession of Saturday night's 20-16 exhibition victory over the Steelers.

It was a beautifully designed and executed play. It was all the Giants' first-team offense did well.

Eli Manning was on the field for 12 snaps and threw two passes, completing neither. The Giants' new offense remains a work in progress with 30 days to go until their "Monday Night Football" opener in Detroit.

Some other thoughts on the Giants' second preseason game:
  • You want to know who's leading the race for starting tight end? The Giants ran 26 offensive plays in the first half, and Larry Donnell was on the field for 25 of them. The only other tight end who even played in the first half was Kellen Davis, who was in on four plays, all of which also included Donnell. I think the Giants would like to be able to give Daniel Fells a longer look, but he is injured and did not play. Adrien Robinson is doing nothing in practice to help himself.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Jay Bromley, the team's third-round pick, looked good in the second half against the Steelers' backup line, getting into the backfield to snuff out a run play and putting pressure on the quarterback.
  • Cornerback Charles James muffed a punt in the third quarter -- not the kind of thing that's going to help the feisty return man make a team that has this many good cornerbacks. Preston Parker replaced him on the next punt return.
  • The "NASCAR" package of four pass-rushers on third downs featured Cullen Jenkins and Robert Ayers at defensive tackle, with Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul at end when the first team was in the game.
  • The Giants were flagged for 10 penalties for a total of 109 yards. Of those, two were Jayron Hosley pass-interference penalties of 12 and 47 yards. Zack Bowman was called for illegal contact and Mark Herzlich was called for defensive holding (though he wasn't on the field that play, so it's unclear which Giants defender was flagged). Bennett Jackson received a five-yard holding call. And Prince Amukamara was whistled for an illegal-contact penalty that was declined. Giants defensive backs continue to struggle with the new rules/points of emphasis governing illegal downfield contact.
  • Amukamara made a great play to run down speedy Pittsburgh rookie Dri Archer on a 46-yard screen pass that looked to be a sure touchdown. It's the second time in two games Amukamara has shown the speed to keep up with a touted rookie, as he covered Buffalo's Sammy Watkins well Sunday night.
  • Jerrel Jernigan struggled badly with the first-team offense, and the Giants are eager for rookie Odell Beckham Jr. to get healthy and take over that spot.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We got to talk to New York Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty on Friday, and it was excellent. He told us a story about how his father taught him to play center by having him practice in front of a huge oak tree that he'd have to jump up and hit every time he snapped the ball. It was horrifying and awesome all at the same time. I would like to talk to Pat Flaherty every day if possible, but it's not, so we enjoy what we get.

Also, I know most of you would rather hear about what is going on with the New York Giants' offensive line than what Flaherty did to that oak tree (or what that oak tree did to him). So here's a spot-by-spot breakdown of some stuff Flaherty said Friday:

Left tackle

Beatty
Beatty
Will Beatty has practiced a lot more than anyone expected he would coming off the broken leg he suffered in Week 17 last season. Beatty also has a bit more of an edge to him when he talks to you this summer. Not a ton, mind you. He's still mild-mannered Will. But he definitely seems extra motivated to get back out on the field and show what he can do. And the coaches have noticed.

"Will Beatty's working, and anytime you're at work playing football and putting the pads on, you're going to get better," Flaherty said. "The thing we don't have to have happen is regression with his rehab, but he's handling both things very well, as expected. He's got a ways to go, but he's progressing more now than he would by standing on the sidelines talking to me."

Beatty is coming off not just a broken leg but a rotten 2013 season in general. He signed a long-term contract extension with the team prior to last season and admitted late in the season that the pressure of it affected him.

Schwartz
"He's not that player," Flaherty said of the 2013 version of Beatty. "That starts with me coaching. To be able to coach somebody, he has to be out there on the practice field. If he's not out there practicing the day-to-day drills, then that sets him back and affects your technique on Sundays. Your flaws get magnified. That's what happend last year. This year, we'll see. He's attacking and making sure it doesn't happen again."

Left guard

Geoff Schwartz is a proud, beaming father who misses his newborn baby but looks forward to seeing him again when the family comes to town following the Aug. 3 Hall of Fame Game. The free-agent signee projects as one of the few sure things on this line. Flaherty didn't address him to any significant extent during his news conference.

Center

Walton
J.D. Walton is getting the first-team snaps ahead of rookie second-round pick Weston Richburg, and the sense I get is that the Giants are happy with Walton so far. The center is tasked with more responsibility in the new offense this year in terms of making the protection calls, and Walton told me it's been the toughest thing for him to learn. But Flaherty seems to think he's made a breakthrough. Walton missed the past two seasons with an ankle injury, and Flaherty was asked whether Walton was still shaking off rust.

"If he was rusty, I think he's had some WD-40, because he's out there greasing pretty good, each and every day," Flaherty said. "Was there mental rust? Was there physical rust? Probably. But I don't see rust anymore. He just has to go out and play. He's excited about the opportunity."

So is Richburg, who has been working at both center and right guard but is a rookie. The Giants think he's great, and drafted him in large part because of their belief that he could handle the center's responsibility in their new offense. But 2013 Justin Pugh notwithstanding, they don't rush rookies here.

"If and when Weston continues to develop, he's going to be a very good offensive lineman," Flaherty said. "But he's got to get in there and grow into that position. There's a sense of urgency about being able to grow into a position, and the only way you're going to be able to do that is if you have an opportunity to play."

Hence, all of the extra reps for the rookie at two positions. If Richburg dazzles the Giants at both, he improves his chances of winning one of the two starting spots.

Right guard

Mosley
With Chris Snee having retired Monday, this is wide open. Flaherty is a fan of John Jerry, but Jerry is still quite limited as he works his way back from knee surgery. So Brandon Mosley has been running with the first team at right guard.

"He has to be consistent," Flaherty said. "Somewhere in your career as a player, you have to get off the waves, and that's the point he's at. There will always be peaks and valleys, but you need to have more peaks than valleys. You have to be consistent as an offensive lineman. (Thursday) I saw more consistency. Those guys are pretty good that we're blocking in practice -- Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins. They're as good as there are in the league, and that's a great challenge for a guy like Brandon Mosley."

Guys like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the defensive tackles who await the Giants in Week 1 in Detroit, might dispute Flaherty's assessment. But if Mosley takes advantage of his opportunity, he could get a shot at those guys Sept. 8.

Right tackle

Pugh
After starting 16 games as a rookie in 2013, Pugh projects as the starter at right tackle once again. Flaherty says he's told Pugh that he believes he wasn't 100 percent physically last season and that he needed to get into the weight room and hit it hard this offseason. Pugh apparently took that advice.

"It started in the weight room," Flaherty said. "His approach these past few months, starting back in February, has been a difference. I saw it for the first time when he came back. He was stronger. He weighs more, but more importantly he's stronger. And what he has between his ears in terms of wanting to be good, that's always going to be there. He wants to be the best at his position."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants drafted Weston Richburg in the second round of May's NFL draft to play center. But he's also playing guard in training camp, and he's fine with doing both if it helps speed his development as a starting NFL offensive lineman.

"It's a nice chunk," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Richburg's first-day training camp practice workload. "But he's a smart kid, and it's good for our team if he can handle it."

The plan Tuesday was for Richburg to work as the second-team center, with J.D. Walton working at center with the first team. But the Giants needed a fill-in at first-team right guard. Chris Snee retired Monday, Brandon Mosley had a stomach issue and had to leave practice early, and John Jerry remains a very limited practice participant as he recovers from knee surgery. So Richburg slid in at right guard with the first team.

"They don't carry a ton of guys on the offensive line," Richburg said earlier in the day. "So for me to be able to play guard and center would really help the team a lot."

It would help Richburg, too. The Giants don't like to rush their rookies, but just last year injuries forced Justin Pugh into a starting role at right tackle, and he ended up starting all 16 games for the team as a rookie. So it's not as though they won't give Richburg a shot if he shows he can handle it. And if he dominates at guard in camp and in the preseason, there's no reason to think that couldn't help his chances to beat out Walton for the starting center spot.

"I'm not really focused on one specific spot," Richburg said. "Wherever they need me to go, I'm happy to do that."

With free agent Geoff Schwartz slated to start at left guard, the Giants project to have three new starting offensive linemen in Week 1 this year. That assumes Pugh at right tackle and Will Beatty at left tackle. Beatty, by the way, did a fair amount of practicing with the first team Tuesday after missing OTAs and minicamp while working his way back from a broken leg. So that's a positive as he and the Giants hope to put a disappointing 2013 season behind them.

"My theme is 'today,'" Beatty said. "Go out there and see what I can do today, and focus on that."

Beatty believes he'll be ready for Week 1. Richburg believes he can be a starter right away. So do Walton and Jerry and Mosley. This camp will be about sorting things out for the Giants on the offensive line -- an area that completely sunk them in 2013 and that absolutely must do a better job in 2014 if the Giants are to be competitive at all.
Each day this week, and then the week of July 14, we are taking a position-by-position look at the New York Giants' roster heading into training camp. Today, we take a look at the offensive line, which was the unit most responsible for the 2013 collapse and an area they hope they've improved this offseason.

Projected starters: LT Will Beatty, LG Geoff Schwartz, C J.D. Walton, RG Chris Snee, RT Justin Pugh

[+] EnlargeChris Snee
Jason O. Watson/Getty ImagesThe Giants hope Chris Snee can hold up for another season at guard at age 32.
Projected backups: OT Charles Brown, G John Jerry, G Brandon Mosley, C Weston Richburg

Other candidates for roster spots: T/G James Brewer, G Eric Herman, C Dallas Reynolds, T Jamaal Johnson-Webb, T Rogers Gaines, T Troy Kropog, T DeMarcus Love

Schwartz and Pugh are the most solid-looking guys in their spots at this point, assuming health for both. Walton will compete with rookie second-round pick Richburg for the starting center spot, and that could absolutely go either way. The Giants won't be afraid to start Richburg at center if they think he's ready, but they also don't rush rookies if they're not ready just because they were high picks.

They are hoping Snee can hold up physically and play right guard all year, but they won't know that until it happens. They're hoping Beatty can recover from his broken leg in time for training camp and certainly the start of the season, but they can't be sure that will be the case until they see it, either. And even if healthy, Beatty will have a lot of work to do to bounce back from his disappointing 2013 campaign. Jerry and Brown are the respective backup candidates at those spots, but Jerry missed a lot of spring practice time with a knee injury and could also face a league-imposed suspension as a result of his involvement in the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal from last year. Mosley is a guy they like as a backup guard, and he could move up the depth chart quickly if there are injury issues ahead of him.

I keep thinking the Giants will take 10 offensive linemen, but that's going to force tough choices elsewhere, so it's possible it could be nine if everyone's healthy. Brewer has been around a while and played a lot of different positions for the Giants, but he hasn't done very well with the chances he's had. Herman is still a young player they'll look to hold on to if they can. Reynolds is a veteran who helps as a backup at center and guard, but with Richburg and Walton both on the roster, he could be expendable.
New York GiantsAl Bello/Getty ImagesAfter a disastrous 2013 season for the Giants offensive line, did the team do enough in the offseason to upgrade?
The New York Giants will arrive at the gates of the 2014 season as great an unknown as any team in the league. An offseason of change has brought a new offensive coordinator and a dozen new starters. And while there's little doubt that change and rosterwide upgrades were needed after last season's 7-9 flop, the amount of change the Giants have undergone brings with it a flurry of questions.

By this point in the offseason, those questions have grown familiar: Can Eli Manning bounce back from the worst season of his career? What will the new offense look like? Can young receivers Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. make a major 2014 impact? How will the running back rotation shake out? Who in the heck is going to play tight end? Is there enough leadership left in the locker room? Can Tom Coughlin and the coaching staff get it all to mesh together in such a short period of time?

All good, important, worthwhile questions. But I'd argue that not one of them matters nearly as much as this one:

Did the Giants do enough to fix their offensive line?

Tell me the 2013 Giants had a lot of problems and I won't say you're wrong. I was there for all 16 games. They were awful. Much worse, I believe, than their final 7-9 record would indicate. But there's no question that, of their myriad problems, the offensive line was the biggest and most devastating. Everything else can be traced to the meltdown on the line.

Sure, David Wilson was an early-season fumbler and he and Andre Brown got hurt. But even if he'd held onto the ball and they'd stayed healthy, there were no holes for Giants backs to run through unless they were playing the Bears or the Raiders. Flanking Jim Cordle with Kevin Boothe and 2013 David Diehl is no way to push the pile.

And, yeah, you can argue that part of Manning's job is to overcome adversity and raise the level of play of those around him. But even the best quarterbacks need at least some time to do that stuff, and Manning's pass protection was cripplingly bad last year. The Carolina Panthers sacked him six times in the first 17 minutes of the Week 3 loss in Charlotte. It's easy for you and me to say a guy should do more to rise above his circumstances. It's quite another to actually do it when your circumstances include defensive linemen running next to you during your drops.

The point is that the biggest and most important of the Giants' 2014 unknowns is that offensive line, which still has legitimate question marks at all five positions. To wit:

Left tackle: Even before breaking his leg in the season finale, Will Beatty was having a bad enough season that he was soul-searching in December. Beatty has got to get right physically and mentally if he's to justify his contract and keep Manning from playing legitimately scared again all season.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Schwartz
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants added former Chief Geoff Schwartz to take over the left guard spot.
Left guard: Upgrading from Boothe to Geoff Schwartz in free agency was a solid move, and Schwartz should be fine. The only reason he's a question mark is that he's new and people don't always do well in new surroundings. There's nothing about Schwartz specifically to engender concern, but until we know for sure ...

Center: Is it J.D. Walton, who hasn't played in two years because of an ankle injury? Is it second-round pick Weston Richburg, who's a rookie? Regardless of which is the answer, will it be good enough? The player at center has more responsibility in this new offense than he did in the old one, and Manning has no prior relationship with either of these guys.

Right guard: Chris Snee is back, and he says he feels great. The question here is whether his surgically repaired hips will allow him to last and play with the same fierceness that characterized the prime of his career. If Snee is what he used to be, this could be the key to the whole line. If he struggles, then they have the same problem they had last year, except with John Jerry as the fallback plan instead of Diehl.

Right tackle: Justin Pugh played well for a rookie and offered reason for hope. He says his footwork improved as the season went on, and the Giants' hope is that he continues to make the necessary improvements. If he has a sophomore slump, that brings up a fresh question mark on which they aren't currently counting.

You can make the argument that this year's starting group looks more talented than the one with which the Giants started the 2013 season -- especially if this year's version of Snee is healthy, which last year's was not. But what remains to be seen is how they'll play together and how they'll all hold up. More than any other item on the Giants' list of offseason questions, the answer to this one will determine how much the team can improve over last season.
We get to watch the New York Giants' OTA practice Thursday, but they had one Wednesday, and the team's official website has a report on some of what happened there. You can read the whole thing here, but here are some of the more noteworthy items:

David Wilson was practicing. Wilson still hasn't been cleared for contact, as far as we know, following last season's neck surgery. The Giants have said they are optimistic that he will be, but they've also said they have to prepare as though he won't be, just in case. But it has to be taken as a good sign that he's working in these late-May non-contact drills. Giants.com reports that Wilson worked as a running back and a return man Wednesday.

Eli Manning was practicing. As we discussed earlier. The Giants' team site reports that Manning "put in a full day" and took first-team snaps.

The offensive line alignment. Apparently, the first-team offensive line was, from left tackle to right, James Brewer, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Chris Snee and Justin Pugh. No surprise that Walton, who signed before Weston Richburg was drafted and has been practicing in the new offense longer, gets first crack at starting center. But there will be a camp battle there. Mild surprise that Brewer and not Charles Brown was the starting left tackle in place of rehabbing Will Beatty. Richburg worked at right guard with the second-string offensive line, next to Dallas Reynolds at center. But make no mistake, the Giants used an early second-round pick on Richburg because they liked him at center. And while they'd like to know whether they can count on him as guard insurance, center is the position at which they plan to use him.

Giants offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New York Giants' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Schwartz
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants knew they needed help on the offensive line, so signing Geoff Schwartz was a move in the right direction.
Best move: Signed to start at left guard after a season in which the interior of the Giants' offensive line crumbled completely and decimated the offense, Geoff Schwartz will be an immediate upgrade at a key position and should help the run game as well as Eli Manning's protection in the passing game. The Giants needed to make the offensive line a priority, and signing Schwartz at the start of free agency showed that they understood that.

Riskiest move: Letting defensive tackle Linval Joseph leave for Minnesota in free agency. Joseph is still just 25 years old -- younger than any free agent the Giants signed. He and Justin Tuck (who left and signed with the Raiders) were the Giants' two best defensive linemen in 2013. The Giants are hoping 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins can fill Joseph's shoes, but letting him go risked leaving the Giants too thin on the defensive line -- a position of renowned strength during their last two Super Bowls.

Most surprising move: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and in general the amount of free-agent attention the Giants paid to cornerback. They spent big to acquire Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman at Trumaine McBride. They obviously needed to replace Corey Webster (who they should have replaced last offseason), but the extent to which they beefed up at the position was surprising for a team that appeared to need more help on offense than on defense.

Draft pick impact: First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. has a chance to make a rookie-year contribution as Hakeem Nicks' replacement at wide receiver if he can learn the offense quickly. Ditto second-round pick Weston Richburg, who has a chance to beat out J.D. Walton for the starting center job. And fourth-round pick Andre Williams, who led all of college football in rushing yards last year at Boston College, could get into the mix early at running back. The Giants are counting on their draft picks to help fill holes on the offensive side.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In case you missed it, I posted this story Tuesday afternoon on New York Giants guard Geoff Schwartz and rookie center Weston Richburg and the help they're getting from former NFL offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley.

Bentley has a lot of good things to say about Richburg, which isn't surprising, since that's his guy. And the Giants liked Richburg enough to use the No. 43 pick in the draft on him a couple of weeks ago. But he's not 100 percent set as their starting center, since they signed former Broncos center J.D. Walton earlier in the offseason and he's not giving up the job without a fight.

"Same with any team I'm on. I'm going to bust my butt," Walton said Tuesday. "Based on what I've done in the past, I expect to be the starter."

Walton said he was not bothered by the fact that the Giants used such an early draft pick on a player who plays his position.

"Nothing wrong with competition," Walton said. "He's a good kid. That elevates everyone."

For his part, rookie Richburg is saying all the right things. All of the Giants' offensive players are learning a new system under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, and the rookies are a couple of weeks behind the veterans who have been working at the facility for the past month. Asked about the perception of himself as "pro-ready," Richburg demurred.

"I don't know if anybody's pro-ready, because the players are so much better and faster and stronger at this level," Richburg said. "I think there are people that are more well-prepared than others. I'm going to work hard just like I did in college. I'm going to have to earn what I want."

The Giants will hold an open competition between these two to replace David Baas as their starting center. I still favor Richburg, since he appears to have been drafted with this offensive system in mind. But Walton has played in the league (albeit not for two years due to injury) and obviously can't be discounted. The Giants are pleased to have choices.
video

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's tough to imagine having to tell an NFL offensive lineman how to eat. New York Giants left guard Geoff Schwartz, for example, is 6-foot-6, 340 pounds. Guys like that don't strike you as the sort who have to be selective at the buffet line.

But to hear Schwartz tell it, until he hooked up with former NFL offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley at Bentley's offensive line academy in Arizona a couple of years ago, he was doing it all wrong.

"It's just a whole lifestyle change, but the diet especially," Schwartz said Tuesday during a break from the Giants' offseason workouts. "[Bentley] really is big on that. Because if you're lifting and you're not eating right, you're just not getting the most out of it. And it affects everything you do, really."

[+] EnlargeGeoff Schwartz
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsGeoff Schwartz saw results after altering his diet.
Bentley, who played for the New Orleans Saints from 2002 to 2005 and sustained a career-ending knee injury in 2006, runs a year-round program called "LB O-line Performance." He recruits a handful of candidates each year from the college and professional ranks and brings them out to Arizona for training specific to the needs of their size and their position. Then he stays in touch throughout the year, checking in weekly or more often with nutrition advice, changes in workout routines, film reviews, etc.

"That's what makes him so special," said center Weston Richburg, the Giants' second-round pick in this year's draft and another Bentley protégé. "He's made it specific for each different person, and you can call on him at any time for anything you need."

Schwartz said his nutrition program is different than Richburg's, since Richburg is about 40 pounds lighter and has different needs. The rookie might need to add weight during the season, whereas Schwartz wants to take some off or maintain. Schwartz said he no longer eats carbs in the offseason, which has been driving him crazy during his wife's pregnancy but has helped to change him as a player. Schwartz signed a four-year, $16.8 million contract with the Giants in March after emerging as a star at guard with the Chiefs last year. He doesn't think it's any coincidence that 2013 was his first year in Bentley's program, and neither does Bentley.

"The idea is to be able to put yourself in a situation where you're in top shape year-round," Bentley said in a phone interview Monday. "I always equate it to a bank account. Most big athletes take so much out, and bigger withdrawals every time with the effort they put in athletically. And when you compound it with poor choices in terms of quality of life, then you're not putting anything back in. Or what you put in isn't big enough to make up for those withdrawals. Little guys, leaner guys like wide receivers have a bit more of a head start. They can eat those candy bars and get away with it."

Schwartz and Richburg, who could form two-fifths of the Giants' starting offensive line in 2014, are converts. And Bentley believes the Giants, whose offensive line issues were thoroughly devastating in 2013, will look a lot different because of them.

"Now you're able to open up your playbook as an offensive coordinator," Bentley said. "Chris Snee was like that for the Giants for so long, and with guys like this they're getting back to that -- versatile guys who can play tough and strong and quick and athletic and anything you need. With these guys, you're not limited in terms of your ability to be creative as an offensive coordinator. I know for sure they have two guys who can address every need in terms of offensive line play. As a matter of fact, these two guys expand what you're able to do."

Bentley is a fan of Justin Pugh, the 2013 first-round pick who started all 16 games at right tackle for the Giants as a rookie. And Snee is still on the team and hoping to hold up for a season at right guard. If Richburg can beat out J.D. Walton for the starting center job, his responsibilities in new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense will be extensive, before the snap as well as after it.

"I felt Weston was the most pro-ready center in this year's draft class, and I still stand firmly on that," Bentley said. "He can do exactly what Ben wants him to do. In terms of his mental decorum, he's built for this. He's designed to take on a lead role. And he's not, for lack of a better term, some nerd who's only out there because he can make the calls. He's a bona fide football player."

Richburg and Schwartz both believe they're better football players for having hooked up with Bentley. The Giants, who needed all kinds of help on the offensive line, stand to benefit a great deal from that in 2014 and beyond.

New York Giants draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
5:50
PM ET
» NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A wrap-up of the New York Giants' draft. Click here for a full list of Giants draftees.

[+] EnlargeWeston Richburg
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsWeston Richburg, a center out of Colorado State, should be in a good position to compete for the Giants' starting job this season.
Best move: The Giants addressed an immediate and long-term need with the selection of Colorado State center Weston Richburg with the 11th pick of the second round. Richburg played multiple positions and in a variety of different offensive schemes in college, and his versatility, athleticism and intelligence make him a strong fit for the center spot in the Giants' new Ben McAdoo offense. I don't see any reason he can't beat out J.D. Walton for the job right away, and having a center who can handle a variety of responsibilities before the snap and after it should help the offensive line play on either side of him. Richburg's play can also offer the Giants a number of ways to jump-start a running game that never got going in 2013.

Riskiest move: The selection of LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with the 12th pick of the draft isn't "risky" in the traditional sense -- meaning, I don't think he's a threat to be a bust. I think Beckham is likely to be a very good player for the Giants. But passing on offensive lineman Zack Martin for a potential game-breaking receiver was a risky move. The Giants have let the offensive line decay too much in recent years, and Beckham's ability to separate from defenders isn't going to help them much if the line can't get the play blocked and Eli Manning doesn't have time to get him the ball. The Richburg selection mitigates things somewhat, but adding a first-round talent to the offensive line mix was the best move the Giants could have made in this draft, and they chose not to make it. There's a decent chance that will come back to bite them.

Most surprising move: It was surprising that Boston College running back Andre Williams was still available for the Giants in the fourth round, but it's not surprising they took him. He'll fill a role right away as a power back who can fight for tough yards in the middle of the line -- doing the dirty work while Rashad Jennings and maybe David Wilson get the highlight-reel work. The biggest surprise was the selection of Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley in the third round, with the No. 74 pick. This was a clear reach for a player who mainly had fifth- and sixth-round grades. And, although the Giants cited his 10 sacks from an interior line position in his senior season and the fact he was a team captain as support for the pick, even Bromley said he was shocked to be picked on the draft's second day.

File it away: San Diego State safety Nat Berhe was the Giants' pick in the fifth round, at No. 152. It's the second year in a row they took a safety with the No. 152 pick (Cooper Taylor in 2013). Berhe was also a reach but also a team captain/leader type, like almost everyone they picked. Scouting director Marc Ross said the Giants can envision Berhe as a hybrid safety in what Ross called a "Deon Grant role" in the defense. He wasn't necessarily talking about this year, but if Berhe develops, he could have a path to playing time. Taylor is the only Giants safety under contract beyond 2014 at this point. Antrel Rolle is in his final year; Stevie Brown is coming off ACL surgery; and Will Hill is facing a third drug suspension in as many years.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider