Countdown to Camp: Which Giant Will Take the Biggest Leap on Offense?
The 2019 season ended the brief uninspiring tenure of Pat Shurmur; a byproduct of Shurmur’s demise is the commencement of a new coaching staff led by Joe Judge, who inherits a talented, yet unperfect, squad.
But the 2019 season wasn’t a total loss; Daniel Jones, the future of the franchise, showed significant strides at quarterback, and certain players made considerable progress from the year prior.
On offense, rookie receiver Darius Slayton proved he was far better than a fifth-round selection. His development may have assisted in Judge’s decision to retain Shurmur’s wide receiver coach Tyke Tolbert.
With 2019 in the books and 2020 about to get started, it’s time to prognosticate about the development of individual players on the roster. I wanted to look at all the variables and come up with an offensive player that should make a significant jump from 2019 to 2020.
There are honestly a few players that qualify, but none more so than 3rd-year offensive guard Will Hernandez.
Ostensibly, Hernandez showed significant signs of regression in 2019. Per PFF's rankings, Hernandez, in his second NFL season, ranked 74th in offense, 33rd in pass blocking, and 117th as a run blocker in 2019, after finishing 26th in offense, 38th in pass blocking, and 42nd in run blocking as a rookie the year prior among all guards.
Apparent mishaps against the Jets, Eagles, Vikings, and Washington made his regression even more noticeable, especially in pass protection. Nevertheless, Hernandez’s second-year leap was, in fact, an illusion.
But as I mentioned earlier, the variables have to be analyzed and taken into consideration.
No unit is more important on a football team than the offensive line. If there’s an aperture in the armor from the coach to the backups with injuries taken into account, then the unit as a whole suffers significantly.
Hal Hunter, Shurmur’s friend from Cleveland, was the Giants’ offensive line coach during Shurmur’s time in New York. Hunter was a curious choice, a coach who was not scooped up after Joe Judge decided against retaining him.
Hunter's struggles to rectify the early issues of the offensive line were alarming. Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowels schemed 4 and 5 man pressure packages to manipulate the Giants’ line, and no adjustments ever gave Daniel Jones a reprieve from the pressure.
However, it would be unfair to characterize Hunter as the only issue. The offensive line relies on competent cohesion and communication, something the 2019 Giants lacked.
On either side of Hernandez was center Jon Halapio and left tackle Nate Solder. Halapio ranked top five in pressures allowed at the center position, and Solder was number one in pressures allowed by offensive tackles.
The issues were evident, and Hernandez had to continually protect the inside of Solder when the tackle would set wide or go into a vertical set. The timing, teamwork, and protections were frequently off. To lay that solely on Hernandez is a problem, especially considering he's only a second-year player coming from a smaller college program than many of his contemporaries.
Eventually, Hernandez will line up alongside Andrew Thomas, though Thomas' move to left tackle might have to wait a year unless Solder picks up where he left off last season. At the very least, Thomas will improve the health of the offensive line.
They also added several offensive linemen that may start down the line. The most significant improvement for Hernandez is the addition of Cowboys offensive line coach (and former NFL offensive tackle) Marc Colombo.
When he was with now Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett in Dallas, Colombo used multiple varied blocking schemes that should fit Hernandez's strengths more so than just the inside zone that permeated Shurmur’s scheme.
There should be more gap/power and DUO, along with wide zone, outside zone, and some inside zone. The gap/power and DUO should fit Hernandez’s skillset a bit better due to his ability to move in space, location, and finishing power to kick-out.
The addition of tight end Levine Toilolo should help in 12-personnel and 6-man protection schemes, at the line of scrimmage, but that can’t be a base offense for the Giants, not with the skillsets of Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Golden Tate.
Nevertheless, Hernandez’s new coach and the scheme should assist him in furthering his professional development. If Shane Lemieux and/or Nick Gates can develop into a reliable option at center this summer, I’d feel more comfortable about Hernandez's definitive growth.
He’s not out of the woods yet, and it’s not a perfect situation, but Hernandez should be in line to make the leap we all expected last season.