Will Hernandez and Nick Gates grew up about 20 minutes away from each other in Las Vegas. On Sunday, they could find themselves even closer than that. They could be the starting left side of the Giants’ offensive line.
“Two Vegas kids not only on the same team but playing next to each other? That’s pretty cool,” Gates said on Monday of the possibility.
That’s all it is right now, a possibility. Starting left tackle Nate Solder is in the concussion protocol and missed Monday’s workout attending to a personal matter, so his status is unclear. Starting right tackle Mike Remmers missed the Jets game with a back injury, and while he returned to the field on Monday, he might not be cleared to play against the Bears. Pat Shurmur said that when the two veterans return from their situations they will return to the starting lineup.
If one or the other can’t, though, Gates will step in.
“He may get a shot,” Shurmur said of Gates. “Let’s just wait and see what the week brings.”
What it will bring on Sunday, regardless of who plays, is a ferocious Bears pass rush. Gates is already focused on trying to stop them.
“This week going against Khalil [Mack] and [Leonard] Floyd, they’re top-tier pass-rushers,” Gates said. “Khalil is probably going to be a Hall of Famer when he’s done, Floyd will play for a long time, he’s a good player. This will be a good test for me this week. Just have to prepare like I usually do and go out there and play football.”
Maybe next to Hernandez, who is the starting left guard.
The two started in a similar location and may wind up playing shoulder-to-shoulder, but their paths there were very different. Despite their geographic similarity, they never actually met until they both attended the 2018 Combine. Gates was a year behind Hernandez in high school and both said they’d heard about the other, but they never actually crossed paths until they were introduced in Indianapolis.
“Right away, we were cool,” Hernandez said of the instant connection he had and continues to have with Gates. “We’re also very similar personalities. We get along very well.”
Hernandez was a second-round pick who has started every game of his career with the Giants and played every snap as well. Gates was an undrafted offensive lineman from Nebraska who injured his foot in the preseason of his rookie season and figured he was finished as a Giant.
“An undrafted guy, after I got hurt, to be honest with you, I thought: ‘I’m screwed,’” Gates said. “I thought I was done, they would just get rid of me and give me a settlement.”
Instead, the Giants put him on injured reserve for the rest of the 2018 season. This year, he was still perilously attached to the roster, but he made the team out of camp and spent most of the season as the backup lineman. He played one snap at right tackle in the first nine games, then started there in place of Remmers against the Jets.
“I thought he played well,” Shurmur said of that debut. “Listen, he’s a tough, competitive guy. We were looking forward to seeing him play because we feel like he has a chance to be a good player. He battled. One thing about Nick Gates, he’s tough, he’s competitive, and he tries to do things the right way. He had a lot of really good plays out there.”
Getting that opportunity required some patience.
“What’s cool about Nick is he knew that if he just kept working and working, he’d get that chance,” Hernandez said. “He didn’t feel sorry for himself, none of that. There are a lot of things that undrafted guys have to go through, and sometimes it’s not fair, but he never complained about it and he never felt sorry for himself. He just worked hoping for his shot.”
“An undrafted guy, you have to wait,” Gates said. “When you get your chance, take advantage of it.”
The next one could be coming on Sunday. If it is at left tackle, Gates would be replacing a seasoned veteran in Solder. He’d also be replacing the only player who has ever started next to Hernandez during his Giants career (Eric Smith replaced Solder when he left with the concussion in the Jets game).
“I don’t know what the coaches are thinking or what their moves are going to be or how Nate is, but either way, just as well as I get along with Nate I get along just as well with Nick,” Hernandez said. “I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
For two guys who grew up in the same city at the same time, it’s all the confidence in a very small world.