Every day in the NFL is an adventure. For Nick Gates, that is especially true.
“They’ve been throwing me around,” the offensive lineman told Newsday after Monday’s first padded practice of the preseason. “I just go out to practice and they let me know where I am going for the day.”
Some days it will be mostly at center, as it was on Monday. Other days it might be right tackle or guard. The Giants signed Gates to a lucrative two-year extension at the start of training camp, making sure they keep him around for the time being. But when it comes to which position he will be playing for the team during that time, there seem to be no answers.
Or maybe too many.
Gates said he is cool with that.
"I’d say it’s an opportunity for me to be able to show my talent and be versatile,” he said. “I definitely do like being able to play multiple positions and having the coaches be able to have confidence in me to play multiple positions… It’s whatever they want me to do for the day, which I am fine with.”
There aren’t many players in the NFL with the versatility to play any of the five offensive line positions. Generally they are either outside tackles or inside guards and centers. Gates spans the spectrum.
When he arrived with the team two summers ago as an undrafted rookie, though, he’d never snapped a football. Last year, he began to dabble with it, hiking a few to third-string quarterbacks in early warmups. Since the start of the 2020 offseason program this spring, though, he’s been plunged into the position.
And he’s doing well.
Despite limited experiences, offensive line coach Marc Colombo said Gates is “the alpha male that you want at the [center] position. He owns it. That’s what you love about Nick.”
Some may think that his 6-6 frame would exclude him from center, making him more an obstacle for the quarterback to throw around than a benefit. But Colombo said that’s not the case.
“We like big centers,” he said. “I worked with Travis Frederick in Dallas and he’s a big center [6-4]. Big, athletic, strong. We’re looking for centers that can anchor the middle. One of the biggest things is getting depth right off the bat at center, just so he can kind of be the ultimate helper in there. It’s working his set. It’s working the depth of his sets, it’s working the calls, the line stunts, that type of stuff.”
He hasn’t won the starting center job yet, though. He and Spencer Pulley are battling for it, with rookie Shane Lemieux also in the mix. And Gates also is a consideration at right tackle.
Gates wakes up each morning unsure of what the coaches have waiting for him and what position he’ll be playing. He may spend the entire preseason that way.
Perhaps when he wakes up on Sept. 14, the day of the regular-season opener, he’ll know what position he will be playing. Perhaps.
“It’s up to the coaches and what they think is best for me and the team,” Gates said. “I’m fine with whatever they think. If they need me to play – wherever – that’s fine and I’m up for the opportunity. I’m excited for what’s in store for me.”