Check out photos of the Giants' offensive line
At the end of the 2014 regular season, when John Mara, Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin took to the podium to re-cap the 6-10 season, all three spoke about the goal of improving the offensive line moving forward.
Last year, the Giants averaged 3.6 yards per carry, the third-worst average in the NFL. Traveling back in time to the team's best regular season under Tom Coughlin in 2008, the Giants led the NFL in rushing average at 5.0 yards per attempt.
The Giants' offensive line group was in its prime in 2008 and was vital in helping the team win Super Bowl 42. Starting from left to right, David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie paved the way for Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward to rush for 2,469 yards. It was their teamwork, chemistry and unity that made them special. But time, unfortunately, takes away most great things.
O'Hara and Seubert played their final NFL snaps in 2010. McKenzie called it quits after 2011. Chris Snee played just three games in 2013 before a hip injury forced him into eventual retirement. David Diehl played 11 games that year (many with a fractured thumb) before retiring after the season. In a span of four years, the members of that unit that had dominated in 2008 were all out of football.
In the past three drafts the Giants have tried to restock the line by using two first round picks, a second round pick and two seventh round picks to try to bring that offensive line back to the dominant form it had during the team's Super Bowl runs.
Justin Pugh joined the team as a first round pick in 2013. Weston Richburg was added in the second round last year, while Ereck Flowers was the latest addition as the 9th overall pick in 2015.
"It's very important for the franchise," Diehl said. "To see the Giants doing that now, it's great because while I understand it's a passing league, if you can't run the ball and you're one-dimensional, you're not going to go far. For them to be able to draft Flowers, draft Pugh and Richburg, bring in Geoff Schwartz (via free agency), it goes to show that they're going back to what the Giants organization is all about: controlling the line of scrimmage, playing smash-mouth football and going after people."
"Anybody can see what a great investment it is to put so many draft picks into offensive linemen," O'Hara added. "Look at what the Dallas Cowboys have done, and I think that's something the Giants are aware of."
"I think it is very important, and the organization knows how important it is," said Snee. "There are some very smart people making decisions for the organization."
Flowers is the highest pick the Giants have spent on an offensive lineman since the team used the third overall pick of the 1974 draft on guard John Hicks.
Photos of OL Ereck Flowers at Giants Rookie Mini-camp
"A couple things that jump out at you when you see him on tape, for how big he is, he has pretty good feet, he's pretty athletic and he finishes plays," O'Hara said about Flowers. "To me, playing offensive line it has always been it's the size of the fight in the dog not the size of the dog in the fight. I think he has a little nasty streak in him, and it's all about effort when it comes to offensive line play, so I like that aspect of it."
"He is big and powerful but young and raw, and he knows that, so he just has to buckle down and approach this like it's his profession and he'll be fine," Snee said.
"He's tough and nasty, gets after people," Diehl said. "He's a fighter. He brings the intangible stuff that meeting room needs and also brings competition amongst the offensive line. The five best players will be on the field, and they will all have to fight and earn that job. Granted, there are technique things he needs to work on, but all of us needed to work on those things when we were that young. I have the utmost confidence and respect in Pat Flaherty, and I know he will be all over him and make him the best player he can be."
All three linemen believe Flaherty, their former offensive line coach, is the perfect mentor to turn Flowers into the best player he can be.
"He's got some technique work he has to work on, but Flats will take care of that, I have no doubt," O'Hara added.
"There is no better guy than Flats to do that, and there should be great confidence in his ability to mold young guys into great players," Snee said.
Next year, the offensive line could look very different than it did in 2014, even if some of the faces are the same. There will be plenty of competition in the spring and summer for starting spots, and it's possible that the only player playing the same position as he did in 2014 will be left tackle Will Beatty.
Offensive line play is as much about chemistry as it is talent, and Diehl warned that it might take time for the group to reach its full potential.
"When we had our success it was when our core unit was together and we had experience for a long period of time," he said. "Playing offensive line is not just a plug in and play, it doesn't work that way. There's an accountability to it, there's a trust to it, and you have to know that the guy next to you is going to fight until the last whistle blows, just like you are. And we had that trust and accountability in one another. In every game they counted on me just like I counted on them because you knew how important it was to the football team."
Those bonds start to take shape in the meeting room and on the practice field, but it's experience together in game situations that binds a unit together. Improved offensive line play can only make life easier on quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants offense.
"There isn't a franchise quarterback in the NFL that isn't happy when you draft a mammoth tackle because every quarterback knows where the best pass rushers are on third-and-nine on the road," O'Hara said. "One of my favorite shots is from Super Bowl 42, Brady comes out of the huddle, looks over and sees Strahan. Then he looks over and sees Osi, and they give the head nod. Tom Brady is acknowledging Osi. I know where you are. Quarterbacks know where every defender is, but they especially know where the pass rushers are and they appreciate having someone to help protect them from those guys."
"If you give Eli more time with the weapons that team has," Snee said, with a small grin, "that's a scary combination."
Big Blue hopes a revamped offensive line in 2015 will give opponents something terrifying to look at on tape when they prepare to face the Giants each week.