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Inside the O-Line's role in improving the ground attack


Center Weston Richburg discusses the progress of the Giants ground game:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Weston Richburg is the Giants' point man in their quest to improve a rushing attack that underachieved in 2016.

The third-year pro occupies the center of an offensive line that must open the holes and knock over opposing defenders if the Giants are to have a productive ground game.

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When Richburg spoke to the media today for the second time in training camp, he fielded seven questions about running the football, an indication it remains a hot topic though the Giants have yet to play a game. Included in those queries was what he thought was No. 1 on the list of improvements the Giants can make.

"We've got to understand our assignment," Richburg said. "That's the main thing. We've been able to mix up personnel a lot more, which gives us a lot more diversity in the run game, which helps.

"In the game, it's going to take all 11. So I think we've done a better job of all 11 guys being on the same page, and we've just got to continue with that consistency and carry that through the preseason and regular season."

Running backs Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman will clearly have much influence on whether the Giants meet their rushing attack goals. But that's not who coach Ben McAdoo mentioned first when asked what he has seen from the running game thus far.

"I think the offensive line is developing confidence in each other, they are coming off the ball," McAdoo said. "The tight end group is improving and that helps. Perkins is a young back who has grown, but we have some other young backs who aren't afraid to hit the hole. There have been some shots of the offense knocking a hole in the defense and that's encouraging."

That didn't happen often enough in the Giants' 11-5 season in 2016. Despite their success, they averaged 88.3 yards per game and 3.5 yards a carry, figures that ranked 29th and 30th, respectively, in the NFL. That put the onus on Eli Manning and the receivers to move the ball down the field. The Giants spent time in the winter and spring scheming how to get more yards on the ground.

"I think we just understand the run game as a whole better," Richburg said. "We've had time in the offseason to talk about it and think it over, go over some things that didn't go well last year and put those things into practice this year. I think we've made some good strides so far."

The Giants drafted Gallman in the fourth round and welcomed back Vereen, who was limited to five games last season because he twice tore his triceps. But their big offseason moves – adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall and using their first-round selection on tight end Evan Engram - bolstered the passing game. Will all of the receiving options at Manning's disposal help the run game?

"I like to think it's the other way around," Richburg said. "Once we get the running game going, it's going to open up. We have weapons all across the field that can be dangerous. So from my perspective, we want to get the running game going so we can help out the passing game."

Although the Giants are optimistic they've made progress in the run game, a training camp practice is not the ideal setting to evaluate a part of the game that is predicated on physicality. But it's better than a spring minicamp.

"You have pads on now, so it is easier," McAdoo said. "You are not live tackling to the ground, even though that happens on occasion as we saw today. But you get a chance to see the line and the tight ends and the fullbacks get to stick their pads in. We get to see the backs hit the hole and the holes open and close quickly in this league, and you get to see who hesitates and who doesn't hesitate and who can read the blocks and who cannot."

The first true test comes Friday night, when the Giants host the Pittsburgh Steelers in their preseason opener.

"We want to set the tone so we can open up other things," Richburg said. "We have lots of weapons that we want to be able to use, and if we get the running game open, that opens that up to be a little dangerous.

"I think we've done some good things so far. There's still lots of things to clean up, but I think we have made some good strides so far."

And they have many more to go before the season opens in Dallas on Sept. 10.

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