“Smart, Tough, Dependable”. These weren’t words you could associate with the 2021 Giants offensive line. You name it…injuries, sudden training camp retirements, coaching upheaval, reliance on over-the-hill players…the O-Line has suffered from a lack of GM attention and questionable coaching since the Giants’ last Super Bowl run. With five offensive line positions to man, the Giants have one returning starter. When GM Joe (Schoen) and Head Coach Brian Daboll arrived at the Giants facility, there were just five offensive linemen on the roster! They went to work during free agency and the draft to bring in talent and build competition. Now there are 17 linemen vying for roughly 9-10 roster spots.
So many questions still exist with the Giants’ offensive line. Can Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux recover from their injuries and regain their spots as starters? Will the rookies be ready to start the season? Can the veterans “hold the fort down” until the rookies step in? Ultimately, will this collection of players from various teams and at various levels of experience mesh into one cohesive unit? There’s a lot riding on the improvement of the offensive line. Daniel Jones’ and Saquon Barkley’s futures as Giants may depend on it. Let’s take a look by position.
Nick Gates suffered a devastating leg injury in the second game of the 2021 season. He withstood seven surgeries on the leg and is in an aggressive rehabilitation program trying to return to top form. Can he make it back for 2022? We can look to former Giants’ Super Bowl Left Guard Rich Seubert as a prime example of how to make a comeback. It took Seubert a little over two seasons to make it back. The Giants then got five solid seasons from him. Gates has the focus and fortitude to make it back. But he’ll need time, maybe this entire upcoming season. Gone is Billy Price who stepped in to replace Gates.
GM Joe has brought in two former Buffalo Bills linemen with experience in Coach Dabs’ system and familiarity with offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. Jon Feliciano looks to be the front runner for 2022 at center. Feliciano enters his eigth season trying to convert to center from his right guard position. He was a backup center with the Bills, but played mostly guard. He understands the schemes, language, and can help bring the other linemen up to speed. Jamil Douglas is a journeyman practice squad player with 2021 ties to the Bills. While there is not a lot of game experience, Douglas has been practicing with the centers during OTAs and minicamps. It is possible the Giants look to bring in another center or try one of their guards (maybe Ben Bredeson) for depth if Gates’ rehab takes longer.
GM Joe set the tone for the importance of the offensive line early in free agency by signing former Indianapolis Colts Guard Mark Glowinski to a three year $18.3M contract. Glowinski was a solid starter for the Colts and can be instantly inserted at right guard for the Giants, replacing Will Hernandez (now with Arizona). Left guard however is up for grabs between third year Giant Shane Lemieux, eight year veteran Max Garcia (former Cardinal), third year player Ben Bredeson and rookie Josh Ezeudu. This will be the biggest camp battle. If Lemieux has fully returned from his knee injury, his toughness just may be the edge he needs. He’s strong in the run game, but showed some vulnerabilities in pass protection during his rookie year. Garcia start 11 of 17 games last year for the Cardinals. He signed a one-year deal with the Giants. Bredeson was traded to the Giants last year after one season with the Baltimore Ravens. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft. He played in 8 of the 17 games. His flexibility as an interior lineman should land him a spot on the roster.
But there are some hungry rookies, including Ezeudu, Marcus McKethan, and Josh Rivas that will challenge for roster spots and playing time. Ezeudu and McKethan were teammates at North Carolina. This may prove important in building cohesion as a unit. Both Tarheel linemen impressed the Giants during pre-draft workouts (led by Giants Line Coach Bobby Johnson). The Giants were so taken with their ability, demeanor and work ethic, they made them third-round and fifth-round draft picks. Ezeudu (6’4″, 325lbs) was used as a tackle and guard in multiple same-game sets. So his flexibility to backup tackles will be extremely valuable. McKethan’s size (6’7″, 335lbs), footwork, and upper body strength are his greatest assets. Rivas is a solid post-draft pickup as an UDFA out of Kansas State. Rivas all 13 games at left guard for K-State in 2021 and was an honorable mention All-Big 12 lineman. With the talent the Giants amassed this offseason, look for Exeudu and McKethan to join Glowinski, Lemieux and Garcia on the roster. Bredeson and Rivas could be practice squad players.
In 2020, the Giants got it right and drafted left tackle Andrew Thomas. After a rough start, Thomas has made great strides and is clearly the protector of Daniel Jones’ blind side. But Thomas has also had a tough time staying healthy with foot and ankle injuries that have limited him at times. He is rehabilitating from an offseason ankle surgery. In a recent Giants O-Line interview, Thomas stated he wasn’t quite 100 percent, but is targeting to be ready at training camp. Right tackle was hopefully solved with the first-round selection of Evan Neal at Pick #7. Neal, out of Alabama, is a mountain of a man at 6’7″, 350lbs. He was inserted immediately at starting right tackle during OTAs. With the bookends basically set with Thomas and Neal, who will be the backups? Matt Peart enters his third year at tackle. He is recovering from a season-ending knee injury. GM Joe also added veteran tackle Matt Gono as insurance. Gono played in 2019 and 2020 for the Falcons, but spent last season on the injured list. Korey Cunningham rejoins the Giants this season after playing multiple positions on the line in 2021. Devery Hamilton (Duke) and Roy Mbaeteka (International signing with the help of Osi Umenyora) round out the tackle group.
There is optimism in Giants Nation for the offensive line. The Giants’ new mantra is “Tough, Smart, Dependable”. The Giants have invested heavily this offseason in building an offensive line that can protect Daniel Jones and open holes for Saquon Barkley. With a projected starting five of LT Andrew Thomas, LG Shane Lemieux, C Jon Feliciano, RG Mark Glowinski, RT Evan Neal, the Giants have the makings of a quality front. Building cohesion and continuity will be key for this group. Coach Bobby Johnson is instilling a toughness in this group, and providing colorful nicknames for the group. From left to right, here are your starting linemen: A.T., Frenchie, Dirtbag, Glow, Big Ev. Backups should include Garcia, Ezeudu, McKethan, Gono, Peart. Backup Center is still unsettled. Training camp could show a few surprises as the Giants look to maximize the flexibility of linemen playing multiple positions. If Nick Gates is ready, look for Garcia or Peart to be at risk.