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John Michael Schmitz prepares for 'werewolves' of the NFL

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Giants offensive line coach Bobby Johnson this season will prepare his players to confront defensive opponents who are Cowboys, Raiders and Rams, among others. But his biggest concern might be werewolves.

"A werewolf has the ability to wreck a game," Johnson said. "When they have the ability to wreck a game, they're a werewolf. Dabs (coach Brian Daboll) talks about it and some other coaches I've been around, don't let the game wreckers wreck the game. There are guys you have to game plan. There's plenty of defenders in this league that have that ability. So, you have to do things to try to mitigate what they can do to your plan.

"They know who those guys are. They all know that at a certain point in time, they're going to have to block potentially the best defensive player by themselves. But they're also smart enough to know this guy is good enough for you to keep doing that, eventually he's going to win. So, what are we going to do to keep him off balance? That's very common around the league, people do that kind of stuff. Every week we see some werewolves, especially in our division. We just have to do things, depending on who it is, depending on the game plan. What are some things we want to do to try to mitigate what those guys can do to wreck your plan? Because if you don't and they wreck your game plan, then that's bad coaching."

Only two of the Giants' 15 offensive linemen have not confronted the NFL's mythical animals in a regular-season game. One is Marcus McKethan, who last week returned to practice after spending his entire rookie season on injured reserve with a torn ACL. The other is John Michael Schmitz, the team's second-round draft choice this year who is steadily solidifying his hold on the first-team center job. Schmitz started 35 games at the University of Minnesota.

In addition to the position's physical demands, center is a cerebral position requiring leadership and communication skills. What is the greatest challenge for a rookie in that position?

"Realizing that there are werewolves every week," Johnson said. "He sees one every day in practice (in Dexter Lawrence). He's going to see one every week. I love the Big 10. They don't have one every week. He's going to have one every week. So, one of the things I asked him in the draft evaluation process is how do you handle losing an individual battle? And he kind of smirked and I knew what it meant. He's not used to it. I said get used to it. It's going to happen to you, how you respond is going to be the biggest thing. I think he's handled it really well.

"I detailed it out further in the (pre-draft) conversation," Johnson said. "I made an example like Dexter Lawrence is one of the best in the league. You're practicing against him every day. He's going to win a lot. You're just going to have to compete, and he goes, 'I got it' and that's what he's done."

View photos from the Giants' preseason opener against the Lions in Detroit.

The competitor in Schmitz doesn't want to accept the inevitability of a one-on-one defeat, but the realist in him knows it is inevitable at this level.

"I would just say I just take it one play at a time, learn from your mistakes," Schmitz said. "At the end of the day, respond, response is the biggest thing there is. Learning from what you did and have that next play mentality at the end of the day, don't let one bad play turn into several bad plays, turn it around and go compete the next play."

Last year, eight-year veteran Jon Feliciano was the Giants' starting center in 17 of their 19 games. He departed following the season via free agency and Schmitz was drafted 57th overall to replace him. Despite his NFL newness, Schmitz delivered some advantages to the middle of the Giants' O-line.

"The thing he brings that is different than what we had a year ago is just the fact that he played center all through college," Johnson said. "Jon Feliciano, really good football player trained under some really good centers, did a really good job for us last year. The difference is John Michael is just a center. That's what he's always been, that's what he's always going to be. So as far as the things that he has, all centers need to be smart, they all need to be able to communicate, they all need to be able to lead. He has those intangibles, that's why we picked him."

Johnson was confident Schmitz would be able to win his share of skirmishes against the NFL's biggest and finest interior werewolves. He faces one of the best every day in practice in Lawrence, a second-team All-Pro in 2022.

"I love going against him," Schmitz said. "He's one of the best. He's the best interior D lineman there is and there's no better way of going against him every single play in practice and getting to compete with him. I mean, just bringing your best each and every day. Just staying confident with it."

Johnson believes blocking a werewolf every day helps accelerate a rookie's development.

"It's the whole thing, iron sharpens iron," Johnson said. "You're going to play some really good players, but you're used to facing a good player. Now you think, 'If I can't do this against the guy I see every practice, I sure as heck probably ain't going to be able to do it (in a game). So, what's my answer? What's my plan? What am I going to do?' We don't game plan our defense, so when we practice against him, it gives them that feeling of, 'Okay, I'm going have to block this guy one-on-one at some point in time, so this is what it feels like.' I've been places where you try to always tilt it to help your guys, and all of the sudden when they get put in a position where you can't be helpful, you're not setting them up for success. You've got to know what that's like."

Schmitz passed his first test in a 32-snap debut last week in the preseason opener in Detroit. The Giants next play Friday night at home against the Carolina Panthers.

"You can never be too comfortable," he said. "I'm always going to be a hard critic of myself. And in this situation, I want to learn more each and every day, learn from the vets in the room. They've been a great help with Ben Bredeson, with AT (Andrew Thomas). Those guys have just stepped up and helped me along and just picked me up when maybe I was having a bad day."

Johnson expects to see very few of those.

"I've seen him compete and start to have some success, which is a good thing to see a young player have success against anybody," Johnson said. "He's doing a really good job and I expect him to continue to develop. He's going to hit some bumps and how he responds is going to be a big thing for him. I think he's made the right step to respond the right way."

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