Giants have a “big problem” in the most unexpected place

Imagine seeing a UFO fly over Big Foot’s head as the creature runs towards the Fountain of Youth.

That’s one of the few things more unlikely than the Giants having an abundance of trustworthy offensive players. A decade-long search for a replacement for two-time Super Bowl champions Chris Snee, David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie has resulted in broken draft picks, free-agent flops, unrealistic waiver wire savers and mishmash lineups.

So it was remarkable in Victory on Sunday against the Texans to see the Giants deploy eight offensive linemen in five short power run plays. Even more notably, two of last season’s starters (Matt Peart and Nick Gates) came off the bench as three substitutes alongside Jack Anderson. And most notable is the notion that the Giants could pull off a roster crunch in a matter of weeks from 11 veteran linemen.

“It’s a big problem,” left tackle Andrew Thomas told The Post. “It pushes everyone in the room to always work to get better because you know someone else is capable of playing right behind you. We’re trying to win. Everyone wants to play, but nobody points fingers or gets upset about replays.”

Andrew Thomas (right) and Jack Anderson (left) celebrate with Saquon Barkley.
Andrew Thomas (right) and Jack Anderson (left) celebrate with Saquon Barkley against the Seahawks on October 30, 2022.
USA TODAY sports

Former general manager Jerry Reese’s inability to rebuild the offensive line during Eli Manning’s twilight years was one of his downfalls. Successor Dave Gettleman made the offensive line his top priority but struck with a Joey Gallo-like speed. The last four seasons have included 19 different starters and 20 different combinations.

Now there seems to be a blockage as a twisted advantage of a crowd of injured players returning at similar times.

“The depth at this position is always crucial, [especially] in November and December,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “The basis of an offensive is the offensive game: five guys – sometimes six, seven or eight – working together as one. They understand what we want to achieve.”

Run, run, run.

“We have a lot of guys up front who are playing at a really high level,” said quarterback Daniel Jones. “I think you see that in the way we run the ball and how we control the line of scrimmage. Lots of good players on the field if you can [be] in some of these packages that we have.”

Thomas is Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated left tackle (90.1), but the Giants’ offensive line has allowed the second-highest quarterback pressure percentage in the NFL (44.4) and was ranked 30th out of 32 last week without a single other starter scored over 65. The whole must be greater than the sum of its parts because the NFL’s No. 3 rushing attack (164.8 yards per game) isn’t just about Saquon Barkley. The Giants’ 47 carries last week marked a 12-year high.

“It’s a lot easier, as an offensive lineman would say, to go forward than backward when the guys are charging at you,” Daboll said. “Our guys have to be able to do everything – pass protection, running block, be good at screen play and perimeter play, communicate well. It wasn’t, ‘Let’s just get some run blockers.’ I don’t think you can do it that way, but our guys have been improving all the time.”

The quintet planned for preseason have yet to play together once, but it’s a path the Giants could go if left guard Shane Lemieux (toe, about to return) and right tackle Evan Neal (knee, yet not practicing) return to join nine-game starter Thomas, center Jon Feliciano and right guard Mark Glowinski.

In that case, the Giants could build a whole second string — Peart and Gates, current fill-in starters Josh Ezeudu and Tire Phillips, and Ben Bredeson if he’s returning from a knee injury — that would be comparable to some of their recent starting units. Those five linemen combine for 53 career starts, including 40 in New York and 11 in 2022. Anderson would be the 11th offensive lineman.

Nick Gates is back in training with the Giants
Nick Gates is back with the Giants
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

“It’s not a young depth either. Everyone had snaps in a game,” said Gates, who has lined up as a jumbo tight end and full-back. “It’s not the first time they’ve been thrown out and they’re surprised by everything. It definitely helps in having confidence that they will do the right thing.”

If the Giants find a way to maneuver the roster to keep all 11 linemen, the make-up will be five drafted (two first-rounders, two third-rounders and one fifth-rounder), all with rookie contracts, two with free agency, two claimed disclaimers, one acquired through trade, and one unclaimed reference. Six were thereby added by the regime of Daboll and General Manager Joe Schoen and five inherited from Gettleman.

“The NFL is a passing league, and as a tackle you get paid to protect the pass,” Thomas said. “But I think the reason it’s a passing league is because it’s difficult to run the ball. When we can get our way, it’s a great feeling.”

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