If casual football fans know the names of their offensive linemen, it’s either for a very good reason or a very bad reason.
That’s why it was special that every Giants fan knew the team’s Super Bowl-winning offensive line from 2006-2010. The bruising group of Diehl-Seubert-O’Hara-Snee-McKenzie will live on in Giants lore forever.
Over time, the team added new faces, but things remained the same. The Giants pounded the run and gave Eli Manning time to look deep on passes, which led to the team winning their second Super Bowl in five years.
Things changed after that, though. Eventually, the Giants’ offensive lines became kind of forgettable.
Instead of swinging big money for free agents like O’Hara or McKenzie, the team settled for stopgaps. Instead of drafting stalwarts like Diehl, Seubert, and Snee, no offensive lineman the team has drafted since 2009 re-signed with the Giants. Many haven’t even survived their rookie deals before being cut.
As a result, the unit’s play has predictably suffered.
Manning was sacked an average of 24.6 times a year from 2006-2012. That total ballooned to a 32.3-sack average per season from 2013-2018.
The Giants’ rushing offense also suffered. After averaging 2,021 yards per season from 2006-2012, the total plummeted to only 1,526 yards per season from 2013-2018.
When Dave Gettleman took over as General Manager in 2018, he promised change. He declared that restoring the offensive line, the “hog mollies,” as he called them, would be his first order of business in redefining the Giants’ culture and making the team an NFL powerhouse once more.
“We’ve got to fix the O-line, let’s be honest,” Gettleman said when he took the job. “Let’s not kid each other.”
While the jury is still out on some of Gettleman’s other moves, he has delivered on his first promise.
Gettleman has done a great job adding offensive line talent from around the league. He signed Nate Solder, the man who protected Tom Brady’s blindside for seven years, to the most lucrative contract in league history for a tackle. Gettleman certainly overpaid, but it was the price to pay to get a Pro Bowl-caliber player that would plug the team’s black hole at left tackle.
Remember, the Giants could have signed Andrew Whitworth in 2017, but signed Brandon Marshall instead. Whitworth is still an All-Pro even in mid-30s, while Marshall did nothing for the Giants. It was mistakes like this that made it even more necessary to sign Solder, a capable player just outside his prime.
While Solder got off to a rough start last year, he settled in nicely by year’s end. He’s a captain, which Gettleman values immensely, and has a good relationship with his linemates.
Gettleman acquired two more starters this offseason. He traded Olivier Vernon for Kevin Zeitler, a fair deal for a player that Pro Football Focus ranked as the No. 6 guard in football last year. The 29-year-old likely still has three years of starter-caliber play left in him.
Then, he completed the right side of his line late this spring by signing veteran Mike Remmers. Yes, he’s a stopgap at age 30 and is coming in with back problems, but he was a part of Gettleman’s Panthers team that went to the Super Bowl in 2015.
Despite playing guard last year, he was ranked as the league’s 36th-best tackle the last time he played the position in 2017. While that doesn’t seem flashy, that’s about the middle of the pack in a league where there are over 70 tackles ranked. After suffering through years of Ereck Flowers, Bobby Hart and Chad Wheeler at tackle, league-average should sound pretty good to Giants fans right now.
So, Gettleman isn’t afraid to open his checkbook. But what about the young guys who will protect the quarterback of the future?
Will Hernandez, drafted in the second round in 2017, may already be the best player of the group. He’s a mauler on run plays, held up in pass coverage, and only committed two penalties all year. His surprising discipline at age 23 and brother-like relationship with Solder bodes well for the future.
The only position Gettleman didn’t really do much to address is center, but he trusts what he’s got. Jon Halapio is only 27 and played well in two games last year before getting injured. Spencer Pulley, a 26-year-old who can play center or guard, is also around for versatile insurance.
After a year where Manning was sacked almost three times a game, easily a career-high, the group looks far more stable for 2019. The big question, though, is how long this will last?
Solder, Zeitler, and Remmers are still starters this year, but they may not all be two years from now. Gettleman will need to draft a young tackle or two to fully complete the revamping of the O-Line.
The term “rebuild” usually lends itself to a multi-year project. However, the construction zone that is the New York Giants’ offensive line is making progress. Gettleman can look at his blueprints and say with confidence he is over 60 percent done with his rebuild.
That has the makings of an “on-schedule” report to his project manager.