Pat Flaherty misses that old gang of his.
As the Giants' offensive line coach, Flaherty for years enjoyed stability not seen at other position groups (except, of course, quarterback, where Eli Manning has started every game since 2004). From the Giants' 2006 NFC Wild Card Game through the end of the 2010 season, the fivesome of Chris Snee, David Diehl, Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie started 59 of 69 regular and postseason games, including 43 in a row. At least four of those linemen started in 65 of those 69 games.
But one immutable NFL reality is that rosters are going to change. And consistently productive groups like the Giants' offensive line aren't immune to that. O'Hara and Seubert were released prior to training camp last year. McKenzie is an unsigned free agent. Flaherty has just two of his longtime stalwarts, Snee and Diehl, as he works to mold the Giants' 2012 offensive line.
"It is different," Flaherty said this week. "Right now what we're trying to do is work each and every day to get the younger guys to understand what these older guys, the veterans, do. They just take it seriously, they know it's a job they have to do each and every day. And we're working on it."
He's doing it with parts both old and new. David Baas is beginning his second season as the team's center. Kevin Boothe, who started the last nine games of the 2011 championship season, is the left guard. Will Beatty has not yet participated in the team's organized team activities (OTAs) after undergoing retina surgery last year and being hindered by back issues this spring, so James Brewer is lining up with the first team at left tackle. Brewer did not play a down as a rookie in 2011. Diehl is at right tackle in McKenzie's old spot next to Snee, giving the Giants 19 years of experience on the right side of the line.
Mitch Petrus, Jim Cordle, Sean Locklear, 2012 draft choices Brandon Mosley and Matt McCants and rookie free agent Stephen Goodin are trying to work their way into the mix.
"Until we can get everybody working, I don't think there's anything that is set in stone," Flaherty said. "We're a long ways away from that - a long ways. Maybe as long a way as we've been since I've been with the New York Giants, from getting everybody where we need them, to function and play."
Flaherty hopes those linemen can follow the example set by the veterans who are no longer here and those that remain on the roster.
"Kareem was a guy that is very much like a Chris Snee, a David Diehl, Kevin Boothe, David Baas, who come to work and understand what their job is," Flaherty said. "Whether they're feeling good that particular day or not, they come to work and you don't know any different. They're great leaders for the younger guys."
Flaherty believes the younger players would do well to emulate Boothe, whom the Giants acquired off waivers from Oakland in 2007. He played primarily as a reserve for four seasons until called upon last year, when he started nine games and performed well enough to enter training camp as the starting left guard.
"Kevin is going to go in there and give you a good day's work," Flaherty said. "It's a reflection on Kevin. He prepares himself to be able to do that. He takes his job seriously. He was a guy who played his first year in the league, then all of a sudden he wasn't in the league for a few days until we picked him up after he was released. When you talk about some of these veteran NFL players that know what it's like not to have a job, well he experienced that. He doesn't want to experience it again. So, that's a lot of motivation for him. He's done a tremendous job."
The less experienced players like Brewer, Petrus and the rookies have been inconsistent, which is to be expected.
"This is Brewer's first offseason (because of the lockout) and he really still doesn't know what an offseason is," Flaherty said. "Every day is a new day for him, because he has never been through it. He's still going through the growing pains, as we say.
"Petrus is a competitor. He still needs to continue to get better at a lot of his techniques. He'll play right guard and left guard, be able to go back and forth. Brandon Mosley looks like he's going to be a tough competitor. He needs to learn the techniques at guard; he played tackle at Auburn. And Matt McCants is a guy along with Brandon in the meeting room who is very serious about wanting to learn our offense, work very hard at it in the classroom. On the football field there are a lot of new things for him. But they're taking it day-by-day and I'm really pleased with their progress, and a sense of their attitude and their effort - along with Stephen Goodin, who we signed as a free agent. Those three guys, they are fun to work with because they actually come and are sitting in the meeting room, looking at me and say, 'Teach me, we want to learn.' So when you have somebody like that, they're not afraid to work."
Diehl and Snee have seemingly learned it all. They have played a combined 284 regular season and postseason games for the Giants. Snee is a three-time Pro Bowler, Diehl has been there once. Snee has been the right guard since he arrived as a second-round draft choice in 2004. Diehl, a fifth-round selection in 2003 has played every position on the line but center. He hasn't played right tackle since 2004, the year before McKenzie arrived.
With the opening of training camp less than two months way, the offensive line is an intriguing blend of experience and youth. Flaherty will sort it all out before the Giants open their regular season on Sept. 5 at home against Dallas.
"September fifth is right around the corner," Flaherty said, "but it's still a long ways away."
*The Giants have eight tight ends on their current roster, but Bear Pascoe is the only healthy one who has caught a pass for the Giants. Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum are rehabbing the torn ACLs they suffered in Super Bowl XLVI. Martellus Bennett spent the last four years with the Cowboys. Fourth-round draft choice Adrien Robinson is completing his academic requirements at the University of Cincinnati.
"I told them that not only do they not know what they are doing, but I don't know what they are doing," longtime tight ends coach Michael Pope said. "I don't know what I'm doing. This is a crash course for guys that haven't had the opportunities that we have had in past years, where we could meet with these guys. These new (CBA) guidelines that we are working under really, really do make it difficult for us to transport the knowledge to these guys. And the fact that we are, by design, having to move along very rapidly, it is beginning to all run together for them. … We have to be much better as we move forward. And it is the mass of information that we are giving them – it is just beginning to become a mix for them. So it is hard to tell exactly whether they are capable of playing, because they are not sure exactly what they are doing. And with just helmets on, you can't get very much technique work done. So it needs to be assignment work, but our assignments were not very good. So we have many miles before we sleep."
*Linebackers coach Jim Herrmann believes free agent acquisition Keith Rivers can help the Giants at several spots.
"He played multiple positions at Cincinnati," Herrmann said. "They sub-packaged him at the Mike (in the middle). In their base package he's an outside linebacker. We'll pretty much do the same. Right now, he's learning the spot. It's very similar to what he did at Cincinnati, with little differences here and there."
Chase Blackburn is working as the first team middle linebacker, but someone else could be there on opening night.
"The good thing is that we have competition," Herrmann said. "The young guys are good, young players. Mark Herzlich is out there. Jake (Muasau), he's doing well. We're experimenting with Greg Jones on the outside and inside. We do have some good young players. It's good competition. Just keep competing and the best player will play."
*Running backs coach Jerald Ingram doesn't believe David Wilson faces an inordinate amount of pressure because he was a first round draft choice.
"It's all how you see it," Ingram said. "I've always coached from the standpoint of, I don't care if you were in the first round or the last round…or (Tom) Brady wouldn't be where he is today. When you step on that field, you're playing with grown men. So if you let that play in the back of your head, that'll bother you. You're either ready or you're not. You're going to have that little bit of pressure. Well, that should be good pressure for you. Don't see it as pressure. The only pressure I have is to take care of that quarterback, take care of my team when I'm out there running the ball. And when I'm not running the ball, I am helping whatever it takes to get that quarterback to be the best he can be."