The last time the Giants' offensive line underwent this much significant transition was in 2011 when, just before the start of training camp, the team released Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert. That very day Chris Snee walked into Tom Coughlin's office and declared himself the new leader of the unit, vowing that the players up front would be prepared and ready. Snee was the obvious choice for the job.
But when Snee walked out of the Giants locker room for the last time on Monday, after announcing his retirement, he left more than a hole at right guard. The Giants were without Snee for 13 games last year. They were anticipating his retirement, and he hadn't been at his All-Pro level for the last few seasons, so replacing him on the field has become the least of their worries. More difficult to fill is the void of his leadership. The way he drove the line. So the biggest question facing the Giants this summer is not: Who will play Snee's old position? It's: Who will capture the spirit of 76?
"I think you have to earn the respect of your teammates before you can be a leader," said guard Geoff Schwartz, the biggest offseason addition to the line and a candidate to grab the reins. "You don't really say 'I'm a leader now' and expect everyone to follow you. You have to do it by actions on the field and that's the position some of us are in right now with Chris being gone. I think we're ready to accept that role."
The experienced veteran players who would seem natural fits are mostly new to the team, while those who have been with the Giants in recent seasons are generally inexperienced on the field.
Ideally, the Giants would like their new generation of blockers to step up. Players such as Justin Pugh, who started every game at right tackle as a rookie last year.
"I think you really don't want to have one guy," Pugh said. "If you can have five guys be leaders that's a great thing. As an offensive line we have a lot to do this camp to jell. There are guys who are leaders on the field, guys who are leaders in the locker room. I think it will work itself out."
Third-year guard Brandon Mosley, who got the first crack at the starting position on the field before leaving Tuesday's practice with a stomach illness, said experience isn't a prerequisite to leadership.
"You don't have to be eight years in the league, you just have to be willing to lead and step up," he said.
Mosley said he was respectfully saddened by Snee's announcement, but he also realized the opportunity.
"I'm very excited, don't get me wrong," Mosley said. "I'm going to work my hardest and try to win the spot."
One of the players he'll be competing with is rookie Weston Richburg, this year's second-round pick (just as Snee was in 2004). Richburg was selected as a center but played some guard in the spring when Snee was sidelined and is expected to continue taking reps at both positions.
"We're really aware of the past history of the offensive line here with the Giants," Richburg said. "We want to be able to carry on that tradition."