When the Giants take the field for their first practice of training camp on Friday, there is a good chance that the offensive line will look very similar to the way it did at the end of last season. That will come as a surprise (or a disappointment) to many. But for the players who are returning to their positions after a mostly underwhelming 2016, they see it as encouraging.
“I think we can take it as a vote of confidence,” center Weston Richburg said on Thursday as the players reported to camp. “That says to us that [the organization] believes in us and we can be the unit that takes this team where we want to go.”
It doesn’t mean, however, that the Giants’ patience is infinite. This is lining up to be a make-or-break year for many in that group. It will be a contract year for guard Justin Pugh and Richburg and the third season at left tackle for Ereck Flowers.
The Giants have invested quite a bit in the line. Flowers, Pugh and Richburg were all selected in the first or second round. And they added DJ Fluker this offseason, a former first-round pick of the Chargers. The Giants would have the best line in the NFL if performance were based on Combine grades and not game production.
“It’s time for them to step up to the plate and be good players,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “I believe they will . . . I expect big things from them. I expect those guys to play well.”
They expect it, too.
“We have more experience playing with each other,” Pugh said. “I think [there have been] growing pains. I think somewhat of it is we didn’t play well enough, so you learn from that . . . Everyone knows that we have to get better. We have to run the ball better and I think that a bunch of different moves we made throughout this offseason will help us.”
Reese said what encourages him the most about the group is the high number of snaps that they have played, and played together. With John Jerry and Bobby Hart on the right side, the Giants’ line played most of the 2016 season together.
“It helps that they played with each other for a long period of time,” Ben McAdoo said of the continuity up front. “It’s usually a group that can finish each other’s sentences. They have to be able to feel each other, feel each other’s body language. A lot of times they communicate telepathically up there, the guys who have played together a long time. I think that’s important. They have to function as one.”
Just because the Giants will start camp with the same lineup does not mean they will finish it that way. Fluker will push Jerry at right guard and maybe even compete at right tackle. Hart will be competing against rookie Adam Bisnowaty at right tackle. But there was no overhaul of the group, no big-name free-agent acquisition or early-round draft pick who will be coming in to a heralded debut with the team.
“All of the offensive linemen are galvanized in respect to playing great,” Reese said. “Everybody keeps saying they’re the weak link. They hear that. So keep talking about it and keep motivating them. I’m sure you will.”
The media will. Until there is a reason not to.