When it comes to the offensive line, the Giants are very happy with their starting six.
Wait, six? Are they revolutionizing their formations? Have they abandoned trying to block and protect with just the traditional five-man front?
No. Not yet, anyway. But at several points this summer, coach Pat Shurmur has spoken about his starting offensive line group as a half-dozen, insisting that backup center Spencer Pulley is really a first-teamer who happens to play with the second team.
Just before the Giants take the field on Sept. 8 against the Cowboys, the six of them will be standing on the sideline. Then five of them will run out for the first snap. For the, um, start. Pulley will remain on the sideline. It’ll be like a cross between “Home Alone” and “Designated Survivor.”
“I guess it’s kind of a weird spot to be in but I appreciate him stating that,” Pulley said of his sixth-wheel status. “That is how they treat me and I appreciate it. I think they respect me as a player and someone in the building, which is always nice.”
While Pulley won’t be on the field with his teammates — at least not at first — in just about every other capacity he has starter status. In meetings he will make just as many calls as actual starter Jon Halapio. When the offensive line sits in order, as offensive linemen often do, they are six across.
Pulley and Halapio figured to have a training camp battle to determine the starting center, but Halapio has had a stranglehold on reps with the first team all preseason. Pulley started nine games for the Giants last season after he was claimed off waivers at the start of the year, helped replace Halapio when he was injured and was considered a big part of the second-half surge by the Giants’ offense in 2018. Now, he is only a starter in theory and a reserve in actuality.
Not that such a role isn’t important.
“We are going to need both of them at some point,” Shurmur said of his two centers. “If for whatever reason we need help at guard, 'Pio can play guard, Spencer can play center. I’m happy with all of that.”
So, too, is Pulley.
“I’ve been in situations where guys, including myself, have had to play hurt or there are situations where it would be awesome if this guy could not play this game, but you don’t have somebody else,” Pulley said. “I think it’s always important to have depth.”
The Giants are seeing that at offensive tackle this week. Starter Nate Solder was excused from the team on Tuesday, and the Giants scuffled to replace him. That was just in a practice. Heading into the last game of the preseason, the Giants still don’t have a solid depth chart on the edges of their line.
That’s far from the case on the interior.
“We’re in a really good situation,” starting guard Kevin Zeitler said. “If something should ever happen, we have a center. He can come in and not miss a beat. You can all be healthy one day and literally everyone can be down the next. You just never know. So having guys you know are capable, who you already have that trust in, that’s big and it will really help us throughout the year.
“We know he knows. We know he’s got us and we’ve got him.”
So the Giants head into the season with their six starting linemen. Five of them will line up against the Cowboys, with a spare in the trunk.
“Obviously you want to play, but you also hope nothing ever happens to somebody,” Pulley said. “You prepare the same but on game day it’s always a little different, it’s always a little weird. You’re just standing there not knowing if you are going to play. But you always have to be ready.”
That’s Pulley’s job description summed up in two words: Be ready.
Just not ready to start.