The Giants spent the offseason counting on five young offensive linemen to become the cornerstones of their team. It was the foundation of their blueprint to make this a successful season.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
As they head into Sunday’s game against the Panthers, they will be without three of those projected starters because of injury. Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates are sidelined with season-ending injuries and Andrew Thomas will miss at least three games on injured reserve while recovering from ankle and foot injuries, one on each leg. A fourth member of that penciled-in crew, Will Hernandez, has played every snap of the season for the team. An anomaly at that position for sure.
Matt Peart was given every opportunity to win the starting right tackle job. Throughout the offseason workouts, during training camp and in preseason games, Peart was plugged in at that spot with a chance to show the coaches he could handle it as a second-year tackle out of UConn.
He could not.
Tenth-year veteran Nate Solder, returning from a season away after opting out of 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns, beat him out to win that job. Peart was so overmatched and unimpressive that the Giants even toyed with moving him to guard at one point earlier this season when they were shorthanded there. He barely played despite the team’s propensity for rotating offensive linemen to keep them fresh and to maintain their readiness.
When they selected him in the third round in 2020, they saw him as a player whom they might be able to develop into a decent NFL lineman. The thought was that it could be a three-year project. Clearly, in their minds, he wasn’t ready to be thrust into that role just yet.
For the next month, however, they have little choice but to rely on him to improve dramatically. Because of Thomas’ injuries, Peart will go from the player unable to beat out Solder to the player charged with protecting Daniel Jones’ blind side. The most important position on the line, left tackle, now will be manned by someone who three weeks ago wasn’t good enough to play right tackle.
"Obviously, Nate proved he is a better guy on the right spot," Peart said this week. "Me being who I am as a competitor, I had the mentality to stay humble, stay hungry and keep coming out here and working . . . I had the mentality of stay ready, because when your opportunity comes, you have to be ready to go."
That next opportunity has arrived.
"I want to show what I do on the [practice] field can carry over into game day, having that consistency, having that relentless effort," Peart said of what he wants to accomplish during this second audition of sorts. "Just come out here and be the left tackle."
Offensive line coach Rob Sale has been hammering that idea into Peart.
"That’s my message to him," he said. " ‘You have a great opportunity. What are you going to do with it? You’ll be here for three games. You get to be the guy. Don’t look over your shoulder. We need you to play at a high level and produce.’ He knows that and he’s ready for the challenge."
Sunday will be the seventh game of the season. It also will be the Giants’ seventh different starting offensive line alignment.
"We’re trying to build consistency, but right now it’s a little hard," Sale said. "It is what it is. We have to get the guys ready to play. There are no excuses. People don’t care."
This isn’t the first game Thomas will miss. When he did not play against the Cowboys two weeks ago, Solder moved to left tackle and Peart started on the right side. This time, Sale said, they’ll keep Solder on the right ("Nate’s had a few good games in a row and is starting to play at a higher level," Sale said) and rely on Peart on the left.
That was the lineup adjustment when Thomas left the field last Sunday and Peart jumped in for him in the second quarter. On his first snap, he allowed a sack that resulted in a fumble and then failed to recover the loose ball.
Sale said it wasn’t as glaring a mistake by Peart as it seemed, at least in terms of the pass protections.
"He could have run him around deeper, but the issues came from the inside of the pocket," Sale said. "We need to clean up the inside so the quarterback can step up in the pocket and make a play. He was deep enough. We have to be better on the inside."
Still, Peart put blame on himself.
"When you have lapses like that, it negatively impacts not just the offense but the team as a whole," he said. "I can’t have that at all."
Not anymore, no. Not as the starting left tackle.
Sale said the biggest thing Peart needs to work on is consistency.
"Sometimes when he does it, he does it well and it’s like ‘Hot damn! That’s it! Do it again! Do it again! Over and over again!’ " Sale said.
That, of course, is something all players strive for regardless of their experience or skill level.
"Your technique isn’t going to be perfect all the time," Sale said. "If you don’t get it, let’s do it violently, let’s get our hands on the defender, let’s not let them get started. Let’s not be passive. That’s not an option. When in doubt, get your hands up and play fast and play physical."
Peart said he has that in him.
"Being violent is in our nature," he said. "You can’t be passive as an offensive lineman. You have to go out there and get it."
That goes for blocking and proving you belong. When he tried to win a starting job previously, he did not "go out there and get it."
Now he has three weeks to try to show he can and help redefine his future with the team.