The Giants have made it pretty obvious they see the key to a bright future lies in the rebuilding of their offensive line. That’s the philosophy that has been on display throughout this past offseason, in free agency and the draft, and it continues on in these early stages of training camp. After what feels like many years of disappointing play up front, the organization needs to have a group that will protect Daniel Jones, open holes for Saquon Barkley, and establish a new identity for the offense and the team as a whole.
One of the most important pieces in that overhaul, though, will never throw a block or line up against an opponent.
It’s offensive line coach Marc Colombo, the new foreman for the work-in-progress. After a successful run as offensive line coach of the Cowboys where his crew was routinely recognized among the top in the NFL, he’s been brought to the Giants to try to bring their play to a similar level.
“They know it wasn’t right previously,” Colombo said of the players who are returning to the Giants' offensive line. “They’re hungry. Having a conversation with each one of them, they want to get better. It’s our job as coaches to put them in a position to succeed. That’s my job.”
It’s one he never thought he would hold.
After his decade-long run as an offensive lineman in the NFL, Colombo retired and decided to pursue a music career in his heavy metal band. He was – and technically remains -- the lead singer guitarist for the band Free Reign that also includes former NFL offensive linemen Leonard Davis and Cory Procter. Their influences include Metallica, Megadeath and Slayer.
“Marc was a hell of a player for us in Dallas,” said Jason Garrett, who was the offensive coordinator and then head coach of the Cowboys during Colombo’s time on the field there from 2005-10. “He was one of those guys that was just a natural leader on our offensive line and throughout our team. He simply played the game the right way. You talk about wanting guys who are going to fight, guys who are smart, tough, disciplined, and play the game at a high level. Marc did that.”
When Colombo retired as a player following the 2011 season, Garrett reached out to him.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you a couple of years… pursuing your rock and roll band, but we’re going to get you back in here,’” Garrett said. “Sure enough, a couple years later, we got him back in the organization and started him on his way as a coach.”
He began as an assistant position coach in 2016. Colombo said it was missing the comraderie of a football team that brought him back to the sport.
“You realize how much you miss it when you’re done,” he said. “You miss being around the guys. That’s the culture you grew up in, and I didn’t realize it until I was done about a year into it. That’s when I got together with Coach Garrett and we started talking about getting into the coaching aspect of things. Ever since then, I’ve loved it, just being around the guys. I’m an O-line guy. Close that O-line door and we’re a unit together. That’s what we’re trying to build around here.”
He's been given the raw materials. They include first-round draft pick Andrew Thomas at tackle, guard Will Hernandez who, entering his third NFL season is the longest tenured Giants in the group, established guard Kevin Zeitler, versatile Nick Gates, plus developing rookie draft picks Shane Lemieux and Matt Peart. Now he has to assemble them.
He’s doing that the only way he knows how.
“I think it’s a work ethic, it’s a nasty attitude, going out there and just kind of imposing our will on the defense,” he said when asked what he brings to the Giants. “Flying around, that’s non-negotiable.”
After that comes the learning.
“Attention to detail is everything,” he said. “Every little step matters. I’m not going to speak for every other coach in the NFL, but every single step matters. If you’re not coaching every little detail of it, the player can’t get better.”
So the Giants move forward with their next attempt to find a strong offensive line, something they haven’t been able to boast since their last Super Bowl run in 2011. They’ve tried to rehab the group in different ways over that stretch, from using high draft picks (such as first-rounders Ereck Flowers and Justin Pugh and second-rounder Weston Richburg) that did not work out, to bringing in free agents (such as Geoff Schwartz and Marshall Newhouse) who fizzled for one reason or another.
Maybe this is the group that will bring back the glory days. Maybe this is finally the offensive line that will carry on the traditions within the Giants that reach all the way back to the earliest days of the franchise.
“I’m excited for the future of this organization,” Colombo said.
Good. Because he’s going to have a very big hand in trying to fulfil that optimism.