Additions of Zeitler, Remmers, health of Halapio, bring optimism
As GM Dave Gettleman had remade the New York Giants roster over the past two seasons, the type of players he has tried to bring in — their personalities and attitudes — have been as important, if not more important, than their talent.
The two veteran players Gettleman brought in to complete the Giants’ offensive line — right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Mike Remmers — exemplify the type of players Gettleman has sought since becoming the team’s general manager.
Both players met the New York media for the first time after Monday’s OTA.
First impression of Zeitler? The 6-foot-4, 315-pound veteran, entering his eighth season, is a massive man with a broad chest.
The 6-5, 310-pound Remmers said, kiddingly, “That guy is enormous. He makes me feel really small.”
Truth be told, after talking to Zeitler, Remmers, a big man in his own right with a big, bushy beard, looks small.
Zeitler is also a serious, all-business, guy.
“I just try to take my time seriously here. You’ve only got so many hours in the building, whether it’s lifting, practice, meetings – you should really take advantage of it,” Zeitler said. “Once that’s done, you can cool down, but just taking the time seriously in the building.
The Giants are counting on Zeitler, Remmers and center Jon Halapio, returning from a season-ending fractured ankle in the second game of the 2018 season, to bolster the offensive line.
Quarterback Eli Manning was sacked 47 times last season, going down to the pass rush on 7.5 percent of his drop backs. Both were career worsts. Even with Saquon Barkley having an incredible rookie season, the Giants were 30th in the league in rushing efficiency per SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, 8.4 percent below league average.
“I think we all know the potential is there, but potential doesn’t mean much. We have to put the work in each day, and actually get it done,” Zeitler said. “The only way to see that will be once the games start rolling. If Saquon is running and busting runs every week.”
Not to mention if Manning is upright with time to find open receivers.
“The way for your team to do better is if your QB has more time and feels good,” Zeitler said. “That’s just everyone in the room. You don’t even need to ask them. You know everyone in the room wants that [the 47 sacks] to disappear.”
With a pass-blocking efficiency score of 98.9 and just three sacks and 11 total pressures allowed, Zeitler was the league’s best pass-blocking guard in 2018.
“That was a cool thing last year. I credit a lot to my teammates around me too, because it’s never just one guy. It’s so many little things – scheme, the guys around you, the communication. That was great, but that was last year,” Zeitler said. “This year, a lot of talent, a lot of challenges, and we’ll take it each week at a time. Hopefully working with the guys around me, we can keep having that type of success, because that’s happening, obviously the whole O-line is doing well, and that’s what matters.”
The guy to Zeitler’s right is most likely going to be the recently-signed Remmers.
Coming off what he called “just a little surgery” on his back, Remmers did not participate in any team drills on Monday. He worked off to the side with a trainer at the beginning of practice, then watched during 11-on-11 segments of practice.
Coach Pat Shurmur said “we’ll just have to see” regarding when Remmers would be cleared for full practice. He added, though, that Remmers will “be ready to go once the season starts, for sure.”
Remmers has played everywhere except center during his six seasons and 65 games. He has, however, spent the most time and is most comfortable at right tackle. The position for which the Giants signed him.
“I have the absolute most experience there [right tackle], from high school, to college, to pros. I have the most experience at tackle,” Remmers said. “Last year I played all guard, the year before that mainly tackle and a few games at guard. It was different playing guard, I feel like my experience there will help me though going back to tackle. I feel like I learned a lot there but I am looking forward to playing tackle again.”
“I worked with Mike for two years,” Shurmur said. “He is a pro, a real pro, and he played winning football for us in Minnesota.”
Remmers said he is “very comfortable with the offense already.”
The Giants are also comforted by the return of Halapio, who earned the starting center job a season ago only to miss nearly the entire season due to his unfortunate leg injury.
“He was really playing well for us before he got hurt a year ago. So we had high hopes for him last season,” Shurmur said. “It appears he has come back 100 percent and is back in there just like he was when he left us.”
Halapio, 27, was starting and playing center for the first time last season. He really has yet to prove he can do it full time, but if he is what the Giants think he is his presence will be a huge boost.
The left guard, second-year man Will Hernandez, did not allow a sack over his final nine games last season. Zeitler said Hernandez is “a good young guard. Even watching today, I think he can be special.”
Left tackle Nate Solder allowed just one sack in his final eight games last season. He recently had ankle surgery, but is expected to be back for training camp.
“He just had a little clean up in his ankle. Something that happens for guys. We felt like it started to flare up a little bit, and felt like we should take care of it. He will be back soon. He will be ready for training camp,” Shurmur said.
“Nothing major. We have time. He is a guy that is a real pro about getting ready to play. He will be able to do that.”
All of this adds up to a veteran group the Giants should have confidence in entering the season.
Manning has often seemed uncomfortable behind offensive lines that left a lot to be desired in recent seasons. He and the Giants hope that won’t be the case this time around.
“Feel good about that group. They have worked hard and we have added a few pieces that have worked,” Manning said. “They will do their part and their job very well. It should help everyone else also.”