With the offseason workout program now a thing of the past and the official start to training camp coming up on July 21st (report date and physicals), it's time to look ahead to each positional battle and how they will ultimately shape the New York Giants' final 53-man roster. Today we examine the offensive line.
Who's in: Geoff Schwartz, John Jerry, J.D. Walton, Weston Richburg, Charles Brown
Who's out: David Baas, Kevin Boothe, David Diehl, Steven Baker
The Names: Justin Pugh, Chris Snee, Will Beatty, Geoff Schwartz, John Jerry, J.D. Walton, Weston Richburg, Charles Brown, Brandon Mosley, James Brewer, Dallas Reynolds, Eric Herman, Troy Kropog, DeMarcus Love, Jamaal Johnson-Webb, Rogers Gaines
QUESTION MARKS: CHRIS SNEE, WILL BEATTY
By far the biggest problem facing the New York Giants heading into training camp is their offensive line. In 2013, the aging, oft-injured group was responsible for quarterback Eli Manning being sacked a career-high 39 times, while they also failed to allow him time to establish a deep threat. The lack of communication and continuity also drastically hurt the running game, as players were cycled in and out seemingly each week due to inconsistency and the aforementioned injuries.
Unfortunately, heading into 2014 several of those questions still remain despite a relatively significant overhaul. Chief among them is the status of guard Chris Snee, who began the offseason participating in full but was quickly shut down due to a lingering elbow injury, and left tackle Will Beatty, who is returning from a career-worst season and a broken leg.
For Snee, the problems are much more significant than whether or not he can simply bounce back. The larger concern is can he play at all? And if so, can he possibly keep pace over the course of a 16-game season? After being shut down in non-contact drills, that hope is beginning to fade.
"The jury is still out on Chris Snee," General Manager Jerry Reese said earlier this offseason. "He was still not doing great this Spring, but we'll see in the next few weeks if he'll be able to help us or not. I think he'll make a decision one way or another and we'll see where that goes."
Early reports suggest Snee is "on track" to return for the start of camp, but nothing is a certainty after day one.
Perhaps acting with some foresight, the Giants went out and signed an insurance policy — offensive lineman John Jerry — who is capable of filling in for both Snee and Beatty. However, even their new insurance policy suffered an injury-related setback, missing the entirety of the offseason workout program due to knee surgery. And although the team expects Jerry to return for the start of camp as well, his status remains every bit as uncertain as Snee's until we see or are told otherwise.
"We signed John in the offseason and, again, I say that we signed him and he signed with us for the opportunity to be a starter for the New York Giants. What do I see in him? I see to plug him right in and see how quickly he can make up the time that he lost in the past couple weeks," offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said.
The problems at guard are only compounded by the uncertainty at left tackle. Beatty, even if he returns to camp healthy and is ready to go, is no longer a lock to start. Like many others along the offensive line, he will now have to re-earn his starting job after a season in which he admits he under-performed due to the immense pressure of living up to the long-term contract given to him by the Giants.
Meanwhile, as they had done for Snee with John Jerry, another insurance policy was signed in the event Beatty isn't able to rebound, and that came by way of Charles Brown — no, not the cartoon character, but a former member of the New Orleans Saints. And while he's the only one of the bunch discussed here that's actually remained healthy, there's no real level of certainty that he'd perform any better than Beatty did in 2013 if thrust into the starting role.
Brown, a former second-round pick of the Saints in the 2010 NFL Draft, had spent all three years of his young career in New Orleans. Over those three seasons, Brown started 22 games, including 14 in 2013. However, he was benched in Week 15 after allowing seven sacks and 33 hurries on the season.
"I had seen enough. I saw enough. It was enough. Period. The penalties, the pressures, the sacks. Saw enough. At some point, you just can't keep watching," Saints coach Sean Payton said at the time. "Feelings get hurt. That's tough."
OTHER POTENTIAL STARTERS
While the question marks surrounding Snee, Beatty, Brown and Jerry will likely linger well into camp, the Giants did manage to shore up some other areas of their offensive line. And while they lost Kevin Boothe to the Oakland Raiders, David Diehl to retirement and released center David Baas, they gained Geoff Schwartz (Kansas City Chiefs), J.D. Walton and drafted Weston Richburg.
Schwartz immediately comes in as a lock for the Giants, taking over at left guard and joining right tackle Justin Pugh as the only "sure bets" along the offensive line.
"They get a great person, first of all. Highly, highly intelligent and loves to play the game. He also has the biggest foot on the team. A size 18 foot. He's a big man. He can play anywhere across the board, all the spot. He was a solid player for us," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said of Schwartz after being signed by the Giants. "I did play him at tackle. I played him at both tackles, both guards. He was kind of the John Havlichek there. We would have loved to have him back. But he got a better opportunity a better deal with the Giants. I wish him the best. I'm pulling for him."
Meanwhile, for Pugh, there had been a lot of speculation about him possibly moving to guard or even across the line to help the Giants find consistency, but while the second-year player publicly stated he'd do that if the team asked it of him, Pat Flaherty has emphatically dismissed that as an option.
"Someone asked me 'would you experiment?' Why experiment with the guy? He's a starting right tackle. Do I need to move him over to left guard? He's a starting right tackle. I tell the offensive linemen that you're a starter, you have a position and you've earned. If we're going to move you, it's going to have to help the football team," Flaherty has said.
With Schwartz and Pugh locks, and the battles at left tackle and right guard slowly beginning to take shape, the sole remaining question for the Giants is who starts at center?
After releasing David Baas, the Giants went out and surprised quite a few by signing J.D. Walton, who had last played for the Denver Broncos in 2012.
Originally a third-round pick of the Broncos in the 2010 NFL Draft, Walton was a two-year starter out of the gate for Denver. He started all 32 games from 2010-2011 (36 consecutive in all), including a stint as Tim Tebow's center, but suffered a serious ankle dislocation/break in 2012 and has not played since. The Broncos ultimately waived Walton in December of 2013, where he was promptly claimed by the Washington Redskins, but ended up back on the free agent marking once the new league year got underway.
At nearly 6'3'' and 300+ lbs., Walton has good size and a big build, although he tends to be shorter (wither short arms) than most prefer in their offensive line. Entering the NFL from Baylor, he also wasn't considered a pull center or someone fit for scheme that uses its center on the move, but that improved quite a bit in Denver.
Throughout the offseason, Walton looked like a man who was completely healthy and ready to earn a starting job for the Giants, but found himself in a bit of a competition when the team drafted Weston Richburg out of Colorado State.
"We expect him to be the guy who Richburg is going to battle for that center position," Reese said. "Obviously you need depth at every position and that’s the position that we think Richburg will provide for us, some depth at center which is his natural position. But we think he could play guard as well. Again, last year we had a couple injuries early on the offensive line and it was pretty devastating. We had to bring some guys in that struggled some at those positions so we’re trying to make sure we have enough depth at every position. This guy will help provide that for us."
Projected by some to go in Round 3, Richburg was still regarded as the best center available in the draft. Despite the minor reach early in Round 2, the Giants did find themselves a relatively polished and talented interior lineman who Giants 101 featured twice as a potential Big Blue target. Anthony Raia provided a short scouting report on him all the way back in December:
Richburg is one of the best centers in the nation this year, and part of an offensive line that helped average 461 yards per game. The Giants will likely try to move on from injury prone David Bass, and value could be found in Richburg. Keep in mind, Richburg was called for an astonishing zero penalties last year as a junior.
In addition to snaps at center, the Giants also had Richburg take some snaps at guard during Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mini-camp. So, even in the event he doesn't beat out Walton for the starting job at center, he's already creating more value for himself by learning a second position and will likely see some time at each throughout training camp and the preseason.
Brandon Mosley, James Brewer, Dallas Reynolds, Eric Herman, Troy Kropog, DeMarcus Love, Jamaal Johnson-Webb, Rogers Gaines round out what remains of the depth for Big Blue along the offensive line, but with the exception of Mosley, Brewer, Reynolds and Herman, the rest appear to be camp fodder/practice squad options pending injuries.
For the four remaining, Mosley appears to be leading the way for what could possibly be the final roster spot amongst offensive lineman. And, in fact, as we alluded to in our training camp sleepers preview, Mosley could surprise and even compete for a starting job given the injury/uncertainty surrounding both Chris Snee and John Jerry.
"I see improvement on a daily basis, I really do," offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said. "He’s, as we sometimes forget, Brandon is really in his second year. His first year he was on IR. He was with us in training camp and then he had his foot operated on and he was put on injury reserve so he missed a year of football activity. Last year was really his first year and he was progressing very well and then when he had the opportunity to really take the bull by the horn again Detroit he went against a good football player and was rally battling pretty good and then he broke his hand and it started all over for him again."
Finally, don't discount the possibility of Dallas Reynolds earning himself a job. He's a veteran with significant NFL experience at both guard and center, including his time with the Giants, and may push for a spot on the 53-man roster because of his versatility however long the odds may be.
Projected Starters: Will Beatty (LT), Geoff Schwartz (LG), J.D. Walton (C), John Jerry (LG), Justin Pugh (RT)
Additional Depth: Weston Richbrg, Chris Snee, Brandon Mosley, Charles Brown, Troy Kropog (practice squad)
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Tags: Brandon Mosley, Charles Brown, Chris Snee, Dallas Reynolds, Football, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, James Brewer, John Jerry, Justin Pugh, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Weston Richburg, Will Beatty