EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants have run 571 offensive plays this season. The same five offensive linemen were on the field for 570 of them.
That continuity will end on Sunday when the Giants will certainly have one new lineman and most likely two in their game against the Jets.
The team announced today that center Jon Halapio will not play because of a hamstring injury. He will be replaced by Spencer Pulley. In addition, right tackle Mike Remmers did not practice for the second day in a row and is doubtful with an injured back. Remmers is responsible for the one missing snap, at Detroit two weeks ago. First-year lineman Nick Gates would make his initial career start if Remmers is sidelined.
Left tackle Nate Solder and guards Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler will keep their perfect snap counts alive. Coach Pat Shurmur expects the line to play well with two newcomers.
“I’ve said all along, I’ve felt like we’ve had two starting centers on our roster,” Shurmur said. “It gives Spencer an opportunity to get in there and play. He played really well for us last year when he was in there. Then Nick Gates has done a really good job. In the event he’s playing in there, which he probably will be, I feel like he’ll do a good job.”
Pulley will be in more familiar territory than Gates. He is a fourth-year pro who started all 16 games for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017 and nine for the Giants last year, when Halapio missed most of the season after suffering a fractured ankle. Pulley hasn’t played a down this season but is ready to assume a full load.
“It’s a different job, it’s a different role, but it’s been good,” Pulley said of backing up Halapio this season. “I love our O-line room, I love this team and the offense specifically. So, I’ve loved my role. I’ve been able to help and study and work with Pio and all the other guys. It’s been good.
“The relationship that Pio and I have is something that doesn’t happen a whole lot. When you have two guys playing the same position and it’s a quote, unquote competition in the preseason and stuff like that. But we get along great. We help each other out all the time. He’s been so supportive this week and I like to think I’ve been the same in the weeks prior.”
Pulley joined the Chargers in 2016 as an undrafted rookie from Vanderbilt. As a rookie, he saw action at all three interior line positions before starting every game at center as a pro sophomore. The Chargers released Pulley on Sept. 2, 2018 and he joined the Giants the following day. After playing sparingly early in the season, Pulley started nine of the Giants’ last 10 games. Now he is again being called on to fill in for Halapio.
“I don’t expect anything different (in performance),” offensive line coach Hal Hunter said. “Pulley played really good for us last year. I went back and I watched a couple of the games from last year just to look at him and see how he played last year. He’s a smart player, he’s a tough player. He’s probably bigger and stronger than he’s ever been. I’ve kind of monitored these guys and how they’ve progressed. He’s actually about nine to 10 pounds heavier, he’s a lot stronger. So, I expect more physical play out of him. He’s a cerebral player, he’s a functional player, he plays with athleticism. Honestly, I don’t expect to miss a beat. To say they are going to miss a beat, I think, is making an excuse. I expect that he will play, and demand that he will play, every bit as good as Pio did.”
Gates will be held to the same high standard, though he is not nearly as experienced as Pulley. He also entered the league as a rookie free agent, in 2018 with the Giants, from Nebraska. Gates spent the entire season on injured reserve after suffering a foot injury in the preseason.
The Giants like his ability, football acumen and versatility; Gates can play all five line positions.
“It’s nice to be able to play anywhere on the line but I was focusing on wherever they wanted me to play,” Gates said. “Just being undrafted, you have to be able to be plugged in here and there. My goal was just to make the team and come in and make the team any way I could. That’s what I did.”
Hunter quickly became a Gates fan.
“What I like about Nick Gates as a player is, first of all, he’s a tough guy, he plays with athleticism and balance,” Hunter said. “He’s a conceptual player, he kind of does everything you ask him to do. I like everything about him. I think he’s got the mental makeup and he’s got some physical tools. What he needs the most, as any young player, he needs to play more. He needs to play. What he did in the preseason, and all of the different positions he played - he played all five positions in the preseason. He shows a lot of promise, and I’m glad we have him.”
Gates would be making his first start since Nov. 24, 2017, when Nebraska ended its season with a 56-14 home loss to Iowa.
“I played (right tackle) in college a little bit, so it’s not a new position to me,” Gates said. “I’m versatile, so I can play any position. I’m fine getting plugged in here and there. I’m just going to go out and try to play my best.”
Just as Pulley has conferred with Halapio, Gates has spent time this week getting help from Remmers, a seven-year veteran.
“I have been talking to Mike a bit more about what he sees and what he keys in on with the defense and things like that,” Gates said. “I try to pick all the guys’ brains a little bit.”
On Sunday, he may be able to do that on the field during a game as the Giants’ offensive line takes on a new look for the first time this season.
*In addition to Halapio, wide receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion) and tight end Evan Engram (foot) will not play. Shepard will miss his fifth consecutive game and sixth of the season, and Engram will sit for the second time.
*This is the Giants’ final game before their bye. Despite losses in each of the last two seasons, the Giants are 20-10 in pre-bye games, a .667 winning percentage that ties them with New Orleans for fourth in the NFL, behind Seattle, Minnesota and Dallas.
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