When Will Hernandez was a rookie starting at guard for the Giants in 2018 he had a lot going for him. He was big, strong, tough and aggressive. But he had another asset that allowed him to get through that difficult introductory gauntlet just as much as any of his physical abilities.
Lined up next to him for ever snap of that season was veteran left tackle Nate Solder.
They arrived from very dissimilar places — Solder off Super Bowl-winning teams in New England, Hernandez from UTEP and one of college football’s longest recent losing streaks — and with a decade’s worth of disparity in their NFL experience. But they bonded very quickly and Solder was able to help guide Hernandez through his first two seasons.
“I learned from the best,” Hernandez said of his mentor on Monday in a virtual news conference.
This year, though, Hernandez will not have that security blanket to his left. Solder, whose family faces a number of health issues, decided to opt out of the 2020 season because of concerns regarding COVID-19. That would be enough of a transition for Hernandez on its own. But there is another wrinkle to the situation, too. While the Giants have yet to determine who will replace Solder at left tackle, there is a good chance it will be first-round draft pick Andrew Thomas.
That would make Hernandez the mentor.
“It really does seem like just yesterday that I was a rookie and relying on Nate,” Hernandez said, “and now I might have a chance to do the same.”
Whether they line up next to each other or not, Hernandez said he’s already gotten a good feeling for Thomas, the fourth overall pick in April’s draft.
“First, he’s a great guy,” Hernandez said. “He’s a really smart guy. He gets things right away, he picks up on a lot of the stuff that coach talks to him about. He’s able to absorb it and pick it up right away, which is very good. He just has that demeanor — you can see it through his note-taking, through his playing, through his practices — that he wants to get better and he wants to do good . . . I think he’s going to be just fine. He’s doing great right now.”
Also, Hernandez added, Thomas can carry a tune.
“He can sing,” he said. “He can really sing. He has a voice.”
Now, so does Hernandez. And it’s a voice of experience and authority on the Giants’ overhauled offensive line. He is the longest-tenured Giant in that group, which is astonishing enough. And there is a possibility that Hernandez could be surrounded by rookies if Thomas is at left tackle and Shane Lemieux wins the starting center job.
It’s a job Hernandez said he is ready for . . . mostly because of what he learned from Solder.
“Nate Solder really taught me a lot on the field and off the field,” Hernandez said. “He also taught me subconsciously how to treat a rookie. I felt like I was treated by him with the utmost respect and the utmost attention to detail, him wanting to help me to get better. It’s all of those things that I picked up from him looking back at it now. It’s the same thing I would instill in anybody who is brand new coming in and playing next to me.”
Hernandez always figured that he’d be able to pass along those lessons from Solder.
“I knew I would take a lot of the same things he did with me and add my own personality to it, but I learned a lot of valuable points from Nate,” he said.
He just didn’t know it would happen this quickly.