Nick Gates is emerging as the most promising offensive line prospect on the Giants’ roster. He may even be the best uncut gem they've had in years.
“At some point he will be a starter,” Pat Shurmur said of the second-year player.
That’s the issue.
Gates, a second-year player who is seeing his first action on the field this year, has yet to find a home. After dancing between backup guard and backup tackle, and even snapping as the third-string center, he started one game at right tackle for the Giants against the Jets (“His guy never touched the quarterback,” Shurmur said), then started last week at right guard.
This week, he may be back at left guard for a second straight game . . . unless Kevin Zeitler recovers enough from his ankle injury to return to the lineup. If that’s the case, Gates will go back to the bench, waiting to see which of the offensive linemen is the next to need a replacement.
It’s why, when you ask Gates which position his seemingly bright future will be at, he shrugs.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t know.”
Gates used to be a tackle. That’s the position he played at Nebraska as a three-year starter, the last two of them on the left side. It’s the position he was playing when the Giants signed him as an undrafted free agent last season. But coming into the 2019 campaign, they moved him to guard.
“That was my position,” he said. “But injuries happen and things happen and I wound up being a swing tackle too.”
Shurmur insists that’s not uncommon.
“When you’re an offensive lineman, until you become a starter at a position, if you are the sixth or the seventh guy, then you have to be multiple,” he said. “Until you solidify yourself at a spot, that’s really the starting point for most linemen.”
Maybe next year, Gates will have more clarity. The Giants have five established starters this season, but there could be changes to the roster this offseason, especially if there are changes to the front office and coaching staff. Veteran tackles Nate Solder and Mike Remmers are no locks to be Giants in 2020. Gates could wind up replacing either of them. He conceivably could be their left tackle of the future.
Guard, though, has appealed to him.
“Everything gets on you quicker and there is not as much space,” Gates said of the interior position. “Even if you do get beat, it’s easier to recover. If you do get beat, you can kind of push him into somebody else. That helps. The guy gets on you quicker but you get to be more firm.”
Shurmur said Gates has the intangibles to play anywhere.
“The thing I admire about Nick is that he’s a football player,” he said. “Height-weight-speed, sometimes we over-evaluate that and say, ‘Boy, this guy has great potential because he hits all these marks.’ But then when he goes out there, the game is dynamic and it moves around. You have to have a feel for blocking the right guy, and if the right guy is not there, you hit the first guy. All those things that happen. That’s what Nick has.
“There is a feel for playing the game, and Nick has that feel,” Shurmur added. “That’s why his future is bright.”
Where will that future be?
Necessity may determine that more than Gates or his coaches.