In a classic case of Murphy’s Law, the New York Giants offensive line, which continued to struggle with finding consistency in the regular season opener against the Cowboys Sunday night, could be without starting right tackle Bobby Hart on Monday when they host the Detroit Lions.
Hart, who is nursing a sprained ankle, did not practice Thursday and it was unclear if he’s be able to practice fully this week, if at all as he continues to aggressively treat his injury.
On Wednesday, Hart did tell reporters that he was optimistic about his chances of playing Monday, noting that he played his way through the game last week on his bad ankle.
While the Giants wait to see how Hart responds to treatment, head coach Ben McAdoo has some decisions to make about a contingency plan. However, he wasn’t willing to share how those plans are shaping up.
“We’ll roll a couple different guys in there,” McAdoo said. “We’ll take a look at it and we’ll see how the week goes.”
Although McAdoo left the door ajar to completing scrambling the offensive line (“We’ll lean towards who can help us put the best five out there,” he said), with the Giants needing a bounce back performance, now is not the time to go crazy with mixing things up. Again, if Hart can’t go, then the fewer changes made to the personnel, the better.
A couple of thoughts about the two young tackles, Adam Bisnowaty, who’s on the practice squad after struggling this summer at right guard, and Chad Wheeler, who made the roster as the backup left tackle.
If the Giants do bring up Bisnowaty for emergency depth, I believe they’re going to place linebacker Keenan Robinson (concussion) on injured reserve. Remember: players placed on IR now and moving forward can be activated if healthy after eight weeks.
The fact that Robinson, who over the last couple of weeks had been seen outside running and working with a trainer on a side field only to be brought back inside during Thursday’s practice follows the same path the team took with linebacker Mark Herzlich (stinger) during the summer before he landed on injured reserve.
The Giants probably won’t make that move, however, unless they’re certain Hart can’t go. That move won’t have to be made until this weekend.
But is Bisnowaty ready to in the 53-man roster where he night be asked to contribute in a game?
“Adam is just a situation where we love his toughness, we love his passion for the game–hard worker,” offensive line coach Mike Solari said last week.
“Again, at this point, he’s working on his technique and his fundamentals to be a better football player, so he can and will be ready.”
Solari was also asked if he had confidence in Wheeler if he had to go into a game at tackle.
“Yes, I am confident in every man on our roster and their preparation and that they are ready,” he said, adding, “(Wheeler) has a role right now: to learn, to develop, become a better football player every day and he’s invested his time.”
If the coaches decide that neither Wheeler or Bisnowaty are an option, what can the Giants do?
The bad news is that neither Joe Staley or Joe Thomas are walking in the door anytime soon, no matter how hard Giants fans wish for such a miracle.
Instead, the Giants will have to look for help from their roster if Hart can’t play. There are only so many options, three of which are outlined below.
Combination No. 1: LT Ereck Flowers, LG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RG Brett Jones, RT John Jerry
When John Jerry was first signed as a free agent in 2014, he was supposed to be the swing guard and tackle. However, injuries to Geoff Schwartz, the starting guard at the time, forced Jerry into the starting lineup, and he never really left, despite the struggles he’s had.
The problem though with this configuration is in the interior. Although Brett Jones received snaps at right guard over the summer with the rest of the starting line, teaming him up alongside of Richburg doesn’t really give the Giants ideal size inside.
They could adjust the scheme to where Richburg and Jones are working in tandem and leave Pugh, the best of the five offensive linemen, by his lonesome. Or they could run a fullback up in there more to give a little extra push as necessary.
But here’s the other problem with moving Jerry to tackle: he doesn’t necessarily have the feet to play the position, which is probably why he hasn’t really done it since coming to the Giants.
Combination No. 2: LT Ereck Flowers, LG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RG D.J. Fluker, RT John Jerry
In this combination, D.J. Fluker gets the nod at right guard, and Jerry at right tackle even though in Combination No. 1, we note that Jerry at tackle probably isn’t a good fit.
Still, this combination gives the Giants a lot more beef in the interior and would, at least on paper, be more of an ideal fit for the Giants running game, a game that mostly runs inside of the tackles where there hasn’t been all that much room of late.
If Jerry needed help on the outside, that’s where blocking tight end Rhett Ellison could lend a hand. Ellison so far has looked better as an in-line blocker versus working from the backfield, so perhaps that assignment might be a better fit.
The question about this combination is Fluker. The big offensive lineman mostly worked with the second-team offensive line this summer, a rather curious development, or lack thereof for the former Chargers first-round pick in the 2013 draft.
Even more curious was how the coaching staff turned to the smaller Jones ahead of Fluker in the preseason.
Solari was asked where Fluker is better suited. His answer, just as it was in the spring, remained the same.
“D.J., I feel, can help us at guard. Can he play tackle? Yes. I think he has characteristics. He’s a stronger player at guard.”
That appears to settle that.
Combination No. 3: LT Ereck Flowers, LG Brett Jones, C Weston Richburg, RG John Jerry, RT Justin Pugh
This combination scrambles the line a bit more across the board. Pugh moves to right tackle, the position he began his NFL career at before finding a home at left guard; and Jones moves to left guard, a position he played last season as a starter when Pugh was injured.
This scenario would be a long shot because Pugh seems to work well with Flowers and there’s no sense in jumbling both sides of the line if it’s not necessary.
Still, based on the assumption that the coaches don’t think Jerry or Fluker are tackles, and that neither Wheeler or Bisnowaty are ready for a full workload against a stout Lions defensive front, this is the only move that makes sense if Hart can’t go.
For what it’s worth, here is what Solari had to say about Jones when asked if he’s made a push at all for a bigger role: “Yeah, just like the other young men that are backing up the starters at this point. He’s worked hard, he’s ascended as a football player and he’s always prepared. He does a great job in his preparation off the field and he’s ready to help.”
Jones might not always be pretty with his execution, but he is a smart football player who has a leg up over Fluker in terms of having been in this offense longer which is why it would be surprising if he’s not in the mix somewhere if a change needs to be made.