EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Will Hernandez was uncharacteristically inactive during the second half of the 2020 season, but he has reclaimed his designation as the Giants' ironman.
The fourth-year guard has participated in every one of the team's 406 offensive snaps through the season's first six games. He is the only offensive or defensive player who has been on the field for every play this year. (Cornerback James Bradberry has missed just three snaps.)
"For me, it's just coming out and doing my job like I'm supposed to," Hernandez said this week as the Giants prepared for their home game Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. "It's nothing special to me. The one thing that I do take pride in is being dependable. I always want to be that guy that coaches can depend on and aren't going to wonder if he's going to be available next week or not. I always want to be there for my teammates, for my coaches, and for the team."
Hernandez established that dependability from his debut as a rookie in 2018. He played all 2,523 offensive snaps while starting each of his first 39 career games at left guard. That included seven starts and 420 plays in 2020.
But the streaks ended when Hernandez was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Oct. 29, forcing him to miss two games. When he returned to action against Philadelphia on Nov. 15, rookie Shane Lemieux was playing left guard and Hernandez was a reserve. Hernandez didn't play more than 26 snaps in any remaining game and though he was in uniform, he never left the sideline in the season finale vs. Dallas.
"It was definitely a new thing for me," said Hernandez, who started 49 games at Texas-El Paso. "I'm not going to lie to you, I don't like it. I want to be out there. That's why I'm here, to play and to be out there with the guys. You put in all this work during the week and you don't get to go out there and play on Sunday, that's hard for me. But at the end of the day, all I could do is keep trying to improve and keep getting better week-to-week because I knew it was just a matter of time that I would be in the position that I wanted to be in. I knew it was coming, I just didn't know when."
Not everyone was as convinced as Hernandez. When the Giants packed up to begin their offseason, Hernandez's future as a starter – or even as a Giant – seemed in doubt.
"We didn't really have those questions internally last year," coach Joe Judge said. "We know he went through some things off the field and obviously was sick. That set him back a good bit, and that's a different set of circumstances right there."
"I knew that I would come back and get what's mine," Hernandez said. "It was just a matter of time. I have that confidence in myself. I know what I'm capable of. I know how I can play. I just needed a little bit of time."
He got it in the offseason. The Giants released right guard Kevin Zeitler and Hernandez slid into that spot.
"I would say at first, it was a little different, of course, but it's all a matter of concentration and getting used to it, which is what's happened already," Hernandez said. "I've gotten used to the transition already. I like it. I like playing both sides. I feel like now after playing both positions, I can go back and forth whenever I need to because I've had that many reps and experience at both sides."
"In terms of Will, I'm very pleased with how he's worked, prepared and managed his body to stay healthy," Judge said. "I'm very pleased with how he competes on a weekly basis. Will is a guy who's played a lot of snaps here over the last few years. That's something he's done a good job with for us, so I'm pleased at how well he's working. He's doing a good job. Again, he's has been the constant out there for us. For someone to play every play, that's saying a whole lot for him at any phase of the game."
Not only has he retained his position, but Hernandez has become a constant on an ever-changing line. The Giants have used 11 different offensive linemen and on Sunday could use their seventh different starting combination in as many games. Hernandez is the only offensive lineman to start each of the first six games at the same position. Nate Solder has started five games next to him at right tackle and another at left tackle.
"It's a lot of new faces, a lot of new guys, but one thing that's a constant is that the coaches and the front office do a good job of bringing in the kind of guys that we like here," Hernandez said. "That's like a good teammate, a good player, being humble, hardworking, and gritty. So, for any of the guys that come in, we already know that they're the kind of guy that we like to be around, so it's easy to integrate them.
"Each guy has his own tendencies, but something that is the same between everybody is how we come off the ball, how we protect, and how we think because we're all trained the same. At the end of the day, any guy that the coaches put out there is fit to do their job, do it well, and work well with others."
To facilitate the hardworking spirit and togetherness, Hernandez has become a more forceful vocal leader in meetings and on the field.
"I've been needing to talk to more guys, especially the newer guys that come in," he said. "We talk to them and catch them up to speed. So yeah, in a way, I've been kind of pushed to be more vocal. It's great. It's just more experience. It's more I'm able to do for the team, and I'm happy to do it."
It's all come together except for one significant component, which the 1-5 Giants hope to begin rectifying Sunday.
"I enjoy the group of guys, but we definitely want to win," Hernandez said. "That's exactly what we're working for every day."
View photos of the custom Giants helmet designed by Marvel ahead of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.