EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Nick Gates' Wikipedia page offers scant information in its four short paragraphs, but it does include this nugget: "He can play at either tackle or guard positions on the offensive line."
That line must be updated, because when the Giants open their 2020 season two weeks from tonight against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gates has a chance to be the starting center.
Joe Judge has revealed very little about job competitions in training camp, but he did admit after the team's first scrimmage 10 days ago that the contest at center between Spencer Pulley and Gates is "scratch even."
In one respect, that is a tribute to Gates. Because while Pulley has made all 26 of his career starts at center, Gates never played the position until camp began. In three seasons at the University of Nebraska, he started 10 games at right tackle and the last 25 on the left side. Gates joined the Giants as a rookie free agent in 2018 but missed his entire rookie season after suffering a training camp ankle injury. Last year, he played in all 16 games, starting two at right tackle and one at right guard.
What's been the biggest challenge moving to the middle?
"Honestly, just mentally, getting the playbook, getting in and just knowing what to do with every single front the defense gives us," Gates said today. "Our defense gives us a lot of different things to look at, mix it up a lot. That's probably the biggest thing, but it's good for me to get out there against our defense and see all that. Because we are most likely not going to get this much different stuff in a game when we go to a real live game.
"I think mentally I'm thinking about so much, I don't really think about the physical part, like the technique part and snapping the ball. It's kind of nice to go out there and think and try to do the play. By the time I give the calls, I'm ready to go and I don't have to think about it too much."
Pulley did not participate in the team's Friday night scrimmage, so Gates anchored the starting line.
"I thought Nick Gates did a good job in the middle, commanding the calls and getting everyone on the same page," Judge said. "I thought he played with a lot of toughness the other night."
Gates is listed at 6-5 and 312 pounds. The first measurement is considered a bit tall for a center (though Pulley is 6-4 and 306 pounds), but Gates' height is perfectly fine for line coach Marc Colombo.
"We like big centers," Colombo said. "I worked with (five-time Pro Bowler) Travis Frederick (who is 6-4, 320) in Dallas and he's a big center. Big, athletic, strong. We're looking for centers that can anchor the middle. One of the biggest things is getting depth right off the bat at center, just so he can kind of be the ultimate helper in there. It's working his set. It's working the depth of his sets, it's working the calls, the line stunts, that type of stuff. He just has to see it all.
"(Gates) is new to the position, so he's seeing stuff for the first time. As we get him more reps and give him more looks, he's going to become more confident. That's on us coaches to keep giving him and keep pushing him and challenging him every day as he keeps getting better. That's something that we try to do every single day."
Communication, both verbal and silent, is vital on any successful offensive line. The Giants' only returning starters up front are guards Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez, so developing those interactions is an ongoing process.
"It takes time," Gates said. "We didn't get OTA's together, which doesn't hurt us, but that time helps get the kinks and little things out of the way then. So, when you come to training camp you know the offense, you know the technique and you know how each person plays. It helps during that. I think we're doing a good job playing off each other. Me, Will and Zeitler have been together with each other for the last two years. We kind of understand each other on the inside."
And that is helping Gates settle in quite nicely in the center of the O-line.
"Nick's done a really good job with that," Colombo said. "We need to keep pushing him, keep showing him everything so it's not the first time he sees it when we're out there playing a real game."
"It's the first time I have been in charge of the line, it's nice," Gates said. "It's a lot more responsibility mentally. It's something I am getting used to."
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