The offensive line that eats together, stays together. And hopefully wins together.
Throughout the voluntary offseason workout program this spring, the tables in the cafeteria at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center were pushed together to squeeze in as many offensive linemen -- and their portions that could feed a small army -- as possible. It happened as a directive by Nate Solder, the accomplished ex-Patriot who signed with the Giants this offseason as a free agent. In the NFL, talent alone won't win many games, but the right culture will. This was just part of a larger picture of what new general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur want the Giants to look like.
"That's why I thought the spring was so important," quarterback Eli Manning told Bob Papa and Charlie Weis on "The Opening Drive" on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "You get a guy, Nate Solder, in there at left tackle and Nate is obviously a tremendous player, but he gets it. He just gets it. He knows how the offensive line is supposed to work together as a group, has them in there early, has them eating lunch together, has that bind that I always thought was the most important with the offensive line.
"It's not having the five best players at each position; it's having five guys that just work together, they communicate, they've got a toughness about them, they've got a pride in their job and, hey, being able to get that third-and-two, being able to run the ball, being able to pass protect and give us enough time and pick up the stunts and blitzes. So I think he's kind of bringing that attitude to this group."
Despite the way last year went, it has been a refreshing offseason for Manning, who was calling in from the Offense-Defense Football Camp at Kean University in Union, N.J., as part of Gatorade's "Beat the Heat" program. Manning saw the Giants rebuild the offensive line, install Shurmur's proven offensive schemes, and draft a running back – not quarterback – with the second overall pick.
"It's definitely kind of a vote of confidence in that they trust in me, that I can play at a high level, can win games, can take us deep in playoffs and win championships still," Manning said. "And, you know what, I want to prove them right. I want to make them look smart and make them to have made the right decision in doing that. So I want to go out there and do great things, do my job and lead this team and make guys around me better and do what I'm supposed to do to put us in position to win those games. And so it was a great vote of confidence and I'm just looking forward to this opportunity."
On top of that, wide receiver Sterling Shepard is primed to take the third-year jump while All-Rookie tight end Evan Engram comes back with a year of experience under his belt. Manning was "very pleased" with the way they and the rest of the team took advantage of the spring practices before training camp opens in two week.
"Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard both had outstanding [spring] camps," Manning said. "They're playmakers. Sterling [is] going into that third year, which I think is always a big year for receivers. They understand schemes and defenses and kind of little nuances of how to get open whether it's man or zone or feeling out the zones. And Evan Engram in that second year, had a big year last year, but just kind of knowing how to handle the course of a full season in the NFL and how it all works and how teams are going to try to attack him and being able to move him in different spots. I think that first year you don't want to overload him, but now, hey, he has a better feel, can move him around in different spot and see how he can help us."
Oh yeah, and Odell Beckham Jr. is coming back healthy.
"So there's a lot of talent there," Manning said. "Now it's just a matter of can we put it all together on game day? Can we find ways to make big plays in critical moments of the game? Can we win those tough-nosed battles where maybe, hey, not everything is going perfect but can you find a way to win in the fourth quarter? Can you put it all together in crunch time and find a way just to get those victories? Those are the teams that tend to have great years – the ones that are just gritty and tough and figure out ways to win football games."
Those are also the teams with cohesive offensive lines. After drafting Saquon Barkley, the team selected guard Will Hernandez in the second round. Manning can't wait to see them in pads later this month while he remains in his red, non-contact jersey.
"As a quarterback, you never get too excited about putting pads on and this and that," Manning said. "It doesn't make a whole lot of difference for us, but I'm excited to get the pads on just to see what Saquon can do in action and seeing him run behind that offensive line. So I think on paper it's kind of all where it needs to be. Now it's a matter of, hey, can we put it all to play and make it work on Sundays?"