Giants head coach Joe Judge, who has shown an innovative streak, figured out a way to work around the lost OTAs and preseason games in which coaching staffs get to evaluate all their players against live competition in non-scripted scenarios.
The loss of that action due to the global pandemic left the Giants with virtually no clue as to what they might have with an offensive line that ended up with three new players, including one rookie at left tackle (Andrew Thomas), an inexperienced center (Nick Gates) and a veteran at right tackle (Cameron Fleming).
Judge's approach of creating a rotation of different offensive line configurations--unofficially at six with more still to come when left guard Will Hernandez returns from the COVID 19 list to the lineup--consisting of a mix of veterans and rookies.
This has not only given him a chance to see what works best in each situation, but it's also provided some key reps for the younger players who, if they should ever be called up to step in for more than just a handful of snaps, won't have to do so ice-cold in terms of live NFL experience.
While such an approach might cause consternation among the players and even the coaching staff, the Giants have made it work.
The experiment is most noticeable in the running game. In five out of their last six games (including their last four in a row), the Giants have collectively rushed for over 100 yards.
While the passing game is lagging—according to Football Outsiders, the Giants have the 16th best offensive line in pass blocking—the Giants have passed for 200 or more yards in three out of their last four contests.
Why has the rotation been so successful?
“Part of the reasons we think may be, ‘Hey, look, maybe it gives our guys a little bit of a breather. It keeps them a little bit fresher. You know, they got fresher legs out there working with some tempo on offense. Yet guys, with a series off here, they're kind of gets their breath a little bit,” said head coach Joe Judge.
Another reason likely stems back to Judge’s desire to win the one-on-one matchups. By inserting different players in at different intervals during the game, Judge has been able to keep the opponent guessing regarding who’s coming when which in turn gives the opponent more to prepare for.
“Yeah, part of it may be, it changes a little bit with the defense can do to attack you,” Judge admitted.
“They can't signal up on just what one guy does and what they're trying to look. Maybe it alters how they approach each drive, not knowing who's going in.”
The other factor that has made the experiment so successful has been the players themselves, their receptiveness toward the coaching of offensive line coach Marc Colombo, and the schemes drawn up every week by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
Tackle Matt Peart, who has had to flip-flop sides at a moment’s notice while making sure his footwork and mechanics remain on point, is a perfect example of how, when a player keeps an open mind to the bigger picture and prepares accordingly, he can morph into a multiple athlete that creates additional challenges for his opposition.
“He's really shown a lot of progress in doing that,” Judge said of Peart. “That's definitely something that's better preparing him for the remainder of his career.”
Right guard Kevin Zeitler, who has had to line up next to Peart and Cam Fleming this season, said that while continuity is a “very big piece,” to an offensive line’s success, the rotation hasn’t caused the unit to miss a beat.
“I think the ability to get them in there has been really good for us,” he said. “It allows us to prep. And if any injuries or anything happened down the road, I think it's gonna be good for us.”
Judge agreed, which is why he’s not planning to change a thing.
“We've kind of talked internally, and bounced a few things off. The one thing we've concluded is whatever the reasons, we like how it's working for us and we're gonna keep on going with it.”