No one can accuse the Giants and their general manager, Dave Gettleman, of accepting the status quo with their offensive line.
The group Gettleman inherited when he took over late in the 2017 season is resigned to history, or wherever it is bad offensive lines go to be discarded and forgotten. From then, to now, the five-man unit is completely revamped. There is no star power, but there is experience, grit, durability, youth and accountability. The presumptive starting lineup of Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Jon Halapio, Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers was assembled every which way — big-ticket free agency, high in the NFL draft, low-end signings and via trades — and represents the best chance in several years — and perhaps the last chance — for this franchise to protect Eli Manning the way he needs to be.
Gone are the days of waiting for Ereck Flowers to develop or hoping Bobby Hart could get the job done. The previous general manager, Jerry Reese, made Flowers and Justin Pugh first-round draft picks and selected Weston Richburg in the second round. It did not work out. Gettleman arrived and this is his handiwork.
Solder, after seven years indoctrinated in the Patriots Way, did not get off to a strong start in his first season with the Giants after signing a four-year, $62 million contract, making him (at the time) the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman. He dealt with a few physical issues as he acclimated to a new team and the breaking in of a rookie, Hernandez, alongside him on the left side of the line. Solder settled in, played better in the second half of the season and the coaching staff believes growth from Hernandez will allow Solder, 31, to more fully concentrate on his own responsibilities without having to guide a rookie on the field. Solder will miss the work this spring as he recovers from a procedure to clean out bone spurs in his ankle.
“Nate Solder’s attention to detail, he put so much pressure on Will Hernandez because his play was tied into Will,’’ offensive line coach Hal Hunter said.
The Giants ran 1,027 offensive snaps in 2018 and Solder and Hernandez were on the field for every one, a remarkable display of durability. After some early growing pains adjusting to the speed and quick-decision requirements of the NFL, Hernandez, a second-round pick, progressed and the Giants see him as a fixture for years to come.
The Giants last season turned their center job over to Halapio, who was taken in the sixth round by the Patriots the same year the Giants took Richburg four rounds higher. He lasted two games before a fractured ankle landed him on injured reserve. Before he was hurt, the Giants viewed Halapio as playing at a higher level than any of their other linemen.
“The way he was playing in the beginning of the Dallas game, that was shocking,’’ Hunter said. “Now he is back in the swing of things and he looks good. He is only scratching the surface.’’
Halapio has healed and is the front-runner to return to the starting lineup, competing with Spencer Pulley, who filled in and started nine games last season. Faced with a challenge, Pulley has gained more than 10 pounds of muscle.
Hunter said he was stunned the Giants were able to add a player of Zeitler’s pedigree — he arrived via a trade that sent Olivier Vernon to Cleveland. The 29-year-old iron man has not missed a game since 2014 and started 103 of the 104 games he played with the Bengals and Browns. In addition to performance, Zeitler brings a no-nonsense approach and burning intensity that this line can use.
“You have to love Zeitler,’’ Hunter said. “He is a tough, hard-nosed guy. He is a good football player. He brings a real toughness. He is all business.
“I love everything about him, his personality and what he brings. He is so fun to coach.’’
Remmers, 30, sports a bushy beard and 64 NFL starts. Between 2015 and 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked Remmers as the 16th best right tackle in the NFL (among players with at least 1,500 snaps). Once the Giants were convinced he was healthy coming off minor back surgery, Remmers was signed and he reunites with coach Pat Shurmur — the two worked together in Minnesota in 2017 — and Gettleman, who signed Remmers in 2014 as a free-agent addition to the Panthers.
Hunter said that saying someone (Remmers) is presumed to instantly replace the incumbent starter (Chad Wheeler) does not make it so.
“Just because you’re a veteran player, a rookie, a second-year player, if you are the best player at that position at any time, we owe it to the organization and the team for you to be in that lineup,’’ Hunter said. “Whoever the best player is should play.’’
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