By Tom Rock
Rookie guard Will Hernandez was shocked.
He wasn’t with the Giants last year, so he had no way of knowing what the layout of the locker room was like, particularly for the offensive linemen. He didn’t realize, apparently, that the players at the position that requires the most cohesiveness, the most togetherness, were scattered about the room. There was one clump of lockers together in the corner, another in the middle of the football-shaped room and a few stragglers in other areas.
“Really?” he asked when told about the former configuration.
It may not have been designed to do so, but the distance between the players certainly led to what felt like a chasm between them on and off the field.
That’s no longer the case. One of the first things Pat Shurmur did when he became the Giants’ coach was to reorganize the locker assignments and put all of the position groups together. He not only wanted to change the culture in the locker room, he wanted to change the geography. That included, perhaps most importantly, the offensive linemen, who now sit together in the same area (at a nose of the football-shaped room).
“Hey, we’re going to go as far as that line will block for us,” Shurmur said. “And I think it’s important that they’re together in everything they do. Even if they’re sitting next to one another, they may talk about something that happened at practice or in a meeting that they wouldn’t shout across a locker room. I think it’s just smart to sit with your position group.”
It seems to be working.
“I don’t get enough of these guys,” Hernandez said. “There’s so much off-the-field chemistry and it’s translating over to the field to our game. That was a very good move and I’m very happy he did that.”
Those who were in the locker room last year have noticed the change and its impact.
“I was kind of right at the equator where I had all offense on one side of me and all defense on the other side,” veteran guard John Greco said of his real estate when he joined the team early in the regular season. “Now I’m where all the other offensive linemen are . . . It is nice this year to be directly across from each other and it’s bringing us together as a group. It’s been nice.”
Jon Halapio, who was on the team last year, declined to say whether the spreading out of the line contributed to the disappointing play in 2017.
“I don’t know because I wasn’t in the row with the guys,” he said. “I just know what I am now. Right now I’m with the guys and the chemistry is pretty good.”
Of course, where the offensive linemen get dressed and hang out won’t matter much unless they play well. That’s really what all the tweaks and changes are about. They’ve shown some flashes of progress in the preseason, but also some steps backward.
That’s to be expected. The five projected starters all are either new to the team or playing a new position this season. But Shurmur, who was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota last year when the Vikings rebuilt their offensive line and went to the NFC Championship Game behind it, said having so much turnover is not an excuse.
“They should be in a position where they block well, run and pass. That’s what we’re looking for,” he said of his expectations at this point. “We’re not the only offensive line with changes. We probably have more than some places, but we went through this a year ago in Minnesota and it can be done.”
They understand that, too. While Shurmur publicly stated his theory about going only as far as the line blocks this season, it’s a rather obvious observation.
“We are all aware of the job that’s expected of us, and we’re all ready to step up to the plate and take on that challenge,” guard Patrick Omameh said. “It’s just a matter of us continuing to build and improve and be where we want to be when the season hits.”
Hernandez said Shurmur has even used that phrasing about the importance of the offensive line in front of the entire team. “We believe it and we’re ready to take that on and lead the way,” Hernandez said. “Our mentality is that we have to get this done now. There’s no one or two years to get it going or to finally find a chemistry. We have to do this now. The team needs us now.”
At least in the new locker room, they’ll know where to find them.