New York Giants offensive guard Justin Pugh revealed his inactivity at the team’s mandatory minicamp these last two days was due to a “little tweak” in his back.
“They’re holding me out as precaution,” Pugh said Wednesday. “That’s something you don’t want to try to press too hard now during minicamp. We got things to look forward to.”
The “we” is of course the team, who will be looking to build on last year’s 11-5 record. But closer to home, per se, Pugh and the Giants offensive line have been fueled this offseason to erasing any opinions that the unit is the weakest link on the team.
“I think that’s been a theme in every season that I’ve been here,” Pugh said. “So, obviously going out there and keep working on what we did last year. We added some pieces to the offense that will help aid the offensive line. So that’s exciting. I’m excited about this group.
“We got a bunch of guys that are willing to work hard and (offensive line) Coach (Mike) Solari is getting everybody right. So, it going to be better, we’re definitely going to see an improvement.”
They’re going to have to if the offense, with its added play-makers such as receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram, are going to become a top-10 unit again.
Last year, the Giants offensive line ranked 24th in run blocking according to Football Outsiders, the Giants running backs averaging 3.61 adjusted line yards per carry.
The passing game stats looked slightly better, the Giants ranking second in the league. But despite that respectable ranking, that was likely more of a result of quarterback Eli Manning getting rid of the ball as quickly as he could before his inconsistently protection allowed a defender to penetrate through the line.
Receiving the brunt of the criticism last year were the two young tackles, Ereck Flowers on the left side and Bobby Hart on the right. Both struggles with their technique, particularly in ass protection, leaving frustrated fans pining for the Giants to make a splash in free agency despite having limited cap resources to do so.
Instead, both Flowers and Hart stayed behind after the team’s playoff run abruptly ended, throwing themselves head first into reshaping their bodies and improving their stamina. Besides lifting weights, both Flowers and Hart took up boxing, which should help them with moving their feet quicker and, to a degree, with their hand placement.
“Everyone is working hard, everyone knows,” Pugh said. “I mean, it’s our livelihood, so it’s not like we’re coming out here not trying to work hard, or not trying to be successful, because then you don’t have a job. It’s not for the lack of effort, that no one is going to go out there and not be successful.”
So far, so good. Although the coaches won’t have a true sense of how far the offensive line has come until training camp when the pads go on, everyone appears to be encouraged with what they’ve seen from the offensive line, and, in particular, Hart and Flowers.
“It’s improving their conditioning, their strength, their flexibility,” Solari said. “All those things add up in a sense of they will perform better at your task.”
Head coach Ben McAdoo agreed, saying the difference is hard to miss, particularly in Flower, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
“He is in tremendous condition. You can see it as practice goes on and especially in a no-huddle period when the ones run back out there for a second time. He is in better condition, so his feet move a bit better, his technique is a bit better,” he said after the team’s sixth OTA.
Pugh said he sees it as well from Flowers.
“He’s working his butt off. He stayed up here, and he’s been in there every day. He’s one of the first ones over here in the morning. So, I’m excited for what’s he’s going to put in there,” Pugh said.
“I couldn’t say this is the hardest he’s worked, but from my perspective, he’s been there every day putting in the work. So, he’s ready to go.”
If the Giants can continue to get Flowers and Hart to keep raising their game while somehow keeping Pugh and Richburg, both of whom dealt with injuries last season, healthy; and if they can figure out what they’re going to do at right guard, where John Jerry is set to battle with D.J. Fluker this summer, Pugh thinks the payout will be sweet.
“It’s time for us to go up as a unit and be five guys that go out there and play and play our best football this year,” he said. “That’s how we have to look at it. It can’t be a fragmented, just the tackles, just the guards, just the center; it has to be all five of us playing better and more a cohesive unit, and that’s what is going to make us successful.”