Rob Thomas sees the difference.
There have been just three practices in Giants training camp so far this summer, only one of them in full equipment with actual hitting, but the defensive tackle who lined up against the Giants’ offensive linemen for the past two years said he’s already noticing the change from the new group the team has assembled.
“I feel like they brought in some guys who have an edge to them, like a really strong edge about them,” Thomas said of the teammates he’s been squaring off against the past few days. “You can definitely see it with the playing styles and how they come off the ball. And it’s not just one of them. I feel like with all the guys, it’s something that’s being coached and they’re buying into it. I feel like their coach is pushing them. You can tell. It’s in all of them.”
How important is that?
“In this game, especially nowadays,” Thomas said, “if you don’t have an edge up front, it’ll be a long night for you.”
And that’s more evident than it was in the past two seasons with the Giants?
“Most definitely,” Thomas said.
That firsthand report from the front is exactly what the Giants want to hear, because rebuilding their offensive line not only in terms of personnel but in terms of personality was one of the offseason priorities. On paper it seemed as if the Giants had acquired some players who could help change the identity of that all-important group, but it wasn’t until they got on the field that anyone could really tell if they had. And now that the real football has begun — the Giants were in full pads for the first time on Saturday and will be in them again on Sunday and Monday — the early reviews appear to be positive.
“It’s a group of guys who just want to get down and get to work,” guard Patrick Omameh said. “Everything we do is to put everybody else on the offense in position to get into the end zone and they’re not going to do that if we don’t do our jobs. So we do the dirty work and at the end of the day everybody gets to shine.”
The Giants certainly invested toward that goal, signing free agents Nate Solder and Omameh and drafting Will Hernandez in the second round. The two veterans were known commodities, solid players with refined techniques and a database of NFL experiences. Hernandez, though, was the guy the Giants wanted to bring in to really set the room ablaze. The team’s evaluators loved his nastiness, his anger on the field, and now that his teammates are getting their first burns from that intensity, they’re loving it too.
“His demeanor is what you look for in an offensive lineman,” LB Olivier Vernon said. “You’re not supposed to be good and jolly playing offensive or defensive line. You’re supposed to have a little edge to you, a little attitude. It’s refreshing when you see a young cat come into the league with that. I’m looking forward to seeing him play.”
Hernandez said he’s just being himself when he brings that grit to the field. He also said he feels no pressure to provide a spark in that direction.
“I don’t have to worry about being the only one,” Hernandez said. “No. We have five guys on that line who are completely nasty who are going to come out and give 100 percent and give all they have. If anything, I need to be able to match the rest of the guys on the line.”
Omameh chuckled at that idea because he’s trying to keep up with Hernandez’ attitude.
“I see a guy who has an edge to him an, me, I’m like, OK, I have to up my edge,” he said. “I can’t let somebody be [meaner] than me. Everyone wants to be the guy who is the chippy dude. So I can say the same about Will. It’s like, if you’re bringing this, then I have to bring it more.”
And pretty soon the Giants have five bad blankety-blanks up front ready to rumble.
The Giants had that the last two times they won a Super Bowl, but it got away from them. They tried to recapture it with draft picks over the years, selecting Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg with first- and second-round picks, but the kindling wasn’t there to start the conflagration and the Giants let those two players walk away in free agency. Others who started for the Giants in the past few years but stuck around — John Jerry and Brett Jones — are playing with the second team this summer.
“I think that’s really something that we have missed for a long time,” Giants co-owner John Mara said of the offensive line’s toughness since players such as Chris Snee and Rich Seubert and David Diehl formed the identity of the entire team. “When we had that success in ’07 and ’11, it was a tough, prideful group of offensive linemen that hung out together, that really cared about whether we won or lost and really set the tone for the rest of the team, and they were the toughest guys that we had on the team. I think we kind of got away from that, to be honest with you.”
Now, they’re trying to get back to it. The only returning starter in the first unit is Ereck Flowers, who has moved from left tackle to right tackle. Jon Halapio has been taking most of the first-team snaps at center. It’s still early, but all signs point to a successful transformation.