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Andrew Thomas, Evan Neal grateful for continuity along O-line

Continuity is not a word that could be used to describe the Giants' offensive line over the past few seasons.

Between a cycle of players, coaches and offensive systems, the O-line has been in a bit of flux in recent years. But all of that has changed heading into 2023.

The Giants will return three full-time starters along the line in Andrew Thomas (left tackle), Evan Neal (right tackle) and Mark Glowinski (right guard). Meanwhile, the competition for the starting left guard position consists of players who each saw time there last season. The only likely newcomer to the unit is rookie center John Michael Schmitz Jr., who is looking to earn a starting role during training camp.

More importantly, position coach Bobby Johnson will return for his second season working in the same system with head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. This comes after the Giants saw three different coaches lead the unit in 2020-21.

"It is great to be in the same system back-to-back years, so I'm looking forward to us growing as an offense..." Thomas said about the O-line's continuity on the Giants Huddle podcast. "It's great. I mean, we're not learning each other. We already understand what makes each other tick, understand the offense. You can start asking more questions, like really understanding the full process and not just regurgitating information. I'm looking forward to it."

For Thomas, in particular, this offseason serves as a significant change from the last few.

After battling through injuries in his first two NFL seasons, Thomas started 16 games in 2022 before sitting out the regular-season finale. He played every offensive snap in 14 games and more than 80 percent in the other two, both of which were due to the games being out of hand late in the second half.

Not only did he play the most in his young career, but he was also at his best. Thomas recorded just two penalties and allowed a mere three sacks and 21 total pressures on more than 600 pass block snaps. This led to him being named Second-Team All-Pro.

For the first time since before his rookie year, Thomas will get to spend the offseason in the weight room preparing for the season rather than recovering from an injury.

"Yeah, I mean, for me, this is the first year with no surgery in the offseason," the 24-year-old said. "So, I've been excited to be able to push myself a little bit more in the offseason, and just making sure I stay healthy going into the season - so I'm looking forward to that."

View the best photos from the career of Giants All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas.

Thomas is not the only one along the offensive line that's grateful to find some consistency.

After he was selected with the seventh overall pick in last year's NFL Draft, Evan Neal was slotted in at right tackle. However, he had spent the previous season playing left tackle at Alabama, meaning he would have to spend the offseason training for a different position. In fact, Neal had to make accommodations for this every year he was in Tuscaloosa.

The 6-foot-7, 350-pound lineman started 13 games at left guard in 2019, 12 games at right tackle in 2020 and 15 games at left tackle in 2021 before starting 13 games at right tackle for the Giants in 2022. So, for the first time in five years, Neal will not have to switch his training in order to prepare for a new position.

"It's extremely helpful," Neal said about staying in the same spot. "I mean, this is the first time that I've played the same position consecutive years in my life, you know what I'm saying? Even going back to high school. So, I'm definitely excited to see how I feel, for sure."

Neal faced some bumps along the road during his rookie campaign, including a Week 8 knee injury that cost him four games. But the 22-year-old learned a lot from his first NFL season and feels grateful for the knowledge he absorbed.

"I feel like I gained a lot of experience going out there at right tackle," Neal told the podcast. "I gained a lot of valuable experience that's going to continue to carry me for the rest of my career. As far as meat on the bones, I guess you can say there's just a lot left out there for me, you know what I'm saying? Obviously I played through things, missed five weeks, had a couple of poor performances and things like that, that I had to just kind of shake back from. But all in all, I'm proud of the way that I performed and I'm proud of my resiliency from my rookie year." 

As a second-year right tackle, Neal has spent the last five months trying to perfect his craft. Improving his flexibility was one of his biggest priorities, and that meant doing a lot of yoga. But that's only part of his checklist.

"Really just everything, like I want to get better across the board, you know what I'm saying?" Neal said. "I looked at my stance, I tweaked my stance. I got a lot healthier. I got a lot more flexible, worked a lot on flexibility. Just overall just being able to move through my lower body and my hips and stuff like that. Yeah, but definitely just tweaking my stance, just making sure that I'm in a stance that I'm comfortable in and that I can load up my front leg and press out of it and be explosive and also be balanced under control at the same time."

As for his goals for the upcoming season, Neal just wants to leave his best performance out on the field each and every week. 

"(I want to) be the best that I can be, man," the second-year tackle said. "To help anchor down the right side of the offensive line, help our offense go out there and be efficient and ultimately win games. 

The All-Pro left tackle shared the same sentiment.

"We want to be cohesive," Thomas said about the O-line. "We want to be the bell cows of the offense, protecting DJ (Daniel Jones) and open up holes for Say (Saquon Barkley) and whoever else is running the ball. So just trying to be a solid piece to this offense."

View the best photos from offensive tackle Evan Neal's first season with the Giants.

Here are some other takeaways from the Giants Huddle featuring the offensive tackles.

Thomas on the left guard battle:

"Yeah, we have some talented guys. When you have guys competing like that, we know that whoever's gonna be playing is gonna be the best option and that's the best thing for the team. Rooting for all those guys. Obviously, only one can play, but I'm looking forward to whoever the best man winning." 

Neal on where he improved throughout his rookie year:

"Yeah, I feel like I got better in a pass protection as the year went on. Just kind of got more and more comfortable in my right-handed stance, getting out into my kick step and stuff like that. Also just reps, man. I feel like this league is about reps, and the more reps and experience that you get, the better you're going to be. So I'm definitely fortunate that I was able to go out there and get that type of experience, for sure." 

Matt Peart on battling injuries his first three seasons:

"Honestly, it's a blessing. You know, it's allowed me to take time and really like fine-tune the things I needed to work on so we prevent those lapses in the future, and really just work on my mental side of everything. Right now, I feel great. I feel amazing right now. It's truly a blessing to be here."

Thomas on his focus this offseason:

"I would say in the weight room. I would say upper-body strength has been a big focus for me. And then a lot of like mobility prehab stuff for your hips, knees, ankles, just like body maintenance stuff. Then on the field, just trying to be more consistent with my punches, my hand placement and then consistency with my sets as well."

Marcus McKethan on leaning on his teammates while rehabbing his injury last year:

"That was the main thing, that I wasn't alone. That we had like three or four guys who were also kind of in a similar boat, so I was able to just lean on them, talk to them like, 'Hey, how are you doing with this? How are you dealing with that?' We had a lot of those conversations."

Peart on what he wants to prove this season:

"I want to prove that I was better than I was before, honestly. That's just my mentality, to prove it to them and myself, just knowing that I've had missed times and just need to shake this little injury bug off of me and keep moving forward. That's it."

Get excited for the 2023 season with photos from Media Day at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.