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Thursday, August 22, 2013
Line issues hit Giants where it already hurts

By Dan Graziano

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They put a brave face on it, and they will continue to do so, but the last thing the New York Giants wanted this week was to lose two starting offensive linemen to injuries. Starting center David Baas sprained his knee in Sunday's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts and will be out three to six weeks. And veteran David Diehl, who was the starting right tackle before Baas' injury and was going to be the starting left guard after it, underwent thumb surgery Wednesday and is out for six weeks.

"We'll be fine," guard/center Kevin Boothe said. "Obviously, Dave's injury is a tough one, but we'll regroup. Unfortunately, we've had experiences with guys going down, so we'll respond."

Which is what you'd expect them to say, and to believe, because nobody ever won anything by moaning and groaning about the bad injury breaks they got. It's not for the players who remain healthy to ponder the potentially negative consequences of injuries. That's for those of us looking in from the outside. So here goes:

The problem with offensive-line injuries at this point in the offseason for the Giants is that they hit at the most significant question mark they already had on offense -- their blocking. Theirs was not a great offensive line to begin with in 2012, but it got by with help. Quarterback Eli Manning helped out, as always, with his quick release. Martellus Bennett performed up to his reputation as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw contributed his usual hard-nosed brilliance in pass protection. Fullback Henry Hynoski had a big year opening holes in the running game.

Justin Pugh
The Giants will need even more from rookie Justin Pugh on an uncertain offensive line.
But Bennett and Bradshaw are gone, and Hynoski is recovering from his own knee injury, and there's only so much Manning's quick release can accomplish on its own. The offensive line is going to have to be stout in 2013, and with two and a half weeks left before the Giants open in Dallas, it's getting thinner instead.

The Giants have an absolutely loaded offense from a skill-position standpoint. The tandem of running backs David Wilson and Andre Brown looks like a potentially explosive complement to Manning and the passing game. Top receiver Hakeem Nicks is healthy, Victor Cruz's heel injury should heal in time for the opener, Rueben Randle has had a big camp and new tight end Brandon Myers caught 79 passes with Oakland last year. Manning might have more weapons at the skill spots than he has had in some time, and if he has time to distribute the ball, the Giants should be able to score a ton of points.

But that's only if they can get the plays blocked, and right now that's looking like a mildly big "if." We've seen teams in recent years (the Dallas Cowboys come to mind) that had tons of skill-position talent but couldn't cash it in because of poor play on the offensive line. The Giants aren't worried, right now, about being one of those teams. They hope for big things from first-round rookie Justin Pugh, who's running with the first team at right tackle. They're hoping Baas can return for the opener. And they always believe someone from their stable of backups at any position will be developed enough and ready to take over in a case like this. Jim Cordle at center, or James Brewer at guard or tackle, perhaps, could fit that description.

The problem is that the line is the one area of the Giants' offense that carried question marks with it into training camp. And when injuries hit you where you're already questionable, then it's only natural to wobble a bit. The problem isn't that the Giants don't have a plan or the people to replace the ones who got hurt. It's that this week's injuries came at spots where the Giants weren't their strongest to begin with. So during a time of league-wide optimism, when teams are supposed to be fine-tuning for the start of the season, the Giants have a fresh cause for concern.