Billy Price was a Giant for less than a week and had never even met Nick Gates before he was traded here on Aug. 31, but he was able to read the landscape pretty clearly and size up his new teammate.
"He was the cornerstone and the leader of our offensive line room," Price said.
He added that Gates was behind only Daniel Jones in the hierarchy of overall team leaders.
"He was that guy," Price said. "He was the energy and the juice of this offense."
With Gates done for the season after fracturing his lower left leg early in the loss to Washington last Thursday, Price will be one of the players replacing him on the field. He becomes the starting center, which is what he was going to be anyway as the Giants shifted Gates to left guard. Now Ben Bredeson, another player acquired in a late-August trade, will start at that position for the time being.
They played OK when they were on the field together Thursday.
"I was actually really pleased with the way they came through the other night," coach Joe Judge said.
The Giants have options for their alignment up front as well, including moving Matt Peart from tackle to guard, using Matt Skura, who was elevated from the practice squad, and hoping Shane Lemieux does not require season-ending knee surgery while he is on what for now is short-term injured reserve.
But finding the bodies to replace Gates is the easy part. It’s the next man up. Finding the spirit to replace him will be the biggest challenge.
"When he was on that cart he told us: ‘Go get this thing!’" wide receiver Sterling Shepard told Newsday. "He wasn’t really thinking about himself, he was thinking about us and trying to hype us up and get us going. That shows you what type of person he is and what type of player he is."
Gates’ rise to the top of the locker room, where he stood among the team’s most respected and popular players, was nothing short of remarkable. He was an undrafted rookie who spent his first year on IR, played sparingly with three starts at two different positions in 2019, then emerged as the team’s starting center, a position he had never before played, last year. He delivered every snap of the season in 2020. This year, he became one of the Giants’ captains, an unlikely title given his pedigree but a foregone conclusion given his personality.
Now he leaves a massive hole for the Giants to fill.
"Nick’s a key figure for us, he really is," Judge said. "He’s a guy that the entire time we’ve been here he’s been a team-first guy, he’s been an all-in guy, he’s a guy that comes to work every day with a great amount of energy and enthusiasm. We’re still going to rely on him to do that. As he gets better and comes through his healing process, we want to keep him as involved with the team as possible . . . I believe he’ll continue to have an impact on the team."
He won’t be on the field, though. He won’t be at practices or at the line of scrimmage. He won’t be heard.
"There are leaders who lead by action and there are leaders who are more vocal and he’s definitely one of our vocal guys," Shepard said, including himself in that small but loud group. "Not to have him with me, I have to try to do it myself. Saquon will help me out too."
The Giants need an offensive lineman to step up in that regard, too.
Maybe it will be veteran Nate Solder, who has emerged as the starting right tackle after opting out last season over concerns regarding COVID-19. He was a captain for the Giants in 2019. Maybe it will be Will Hernandez, now in his fourth year with the team. Or Andrew Thomas, the left tackle who has had a steady first two games. Or Price or Bredeson, the new guys.
Or maybe all of them.
"O-linemen are very, very similar kinds of guys," Price said. "Very easy-minded with relaxed personalities. Most guys dip, we all like to drink beer, all of us have pretty good women in our lives, so we’re pretty like-minded. So it’s nice to get with the guys, get in the room, get a feel for how things are, chop it up in the locker room . . . But you get relationships by playing in the fire. Those relationships are molded and built around conflict."
Losing Gates certainly qualifies as fire and conflict. The Giants hope someone emerges from it all as the newest leader.