EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Will Hernandez has moved rapidly from neophyte to veteran on the Giants' offensive line.
When he played his first career game as the starter at left guard in the opening game of his 2018 rookie season, Hernandez lined up with four linemen – Nate Solder, Jon Halapio, Patrick Omameh and Ereck Flowers – whose regular-season experience totaled 207 regular-season games and 12,916 offensive snaps.
Hernandez, who is playing right guard as he begins his fourth training camp, has played in 45 games and participated in 2,618 offensive plays – including all 2,094 in the 2018-19 seasons.
The other four potential starters for the Sept. 12 season opener vs. Denver are Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates and Matt Peart – three second-year pros and another entering his third season – whose experience totals 71 games and 2,933 snaps, just 315 more than Hernandez has logged. Peart is currently on the physically unable to perform/active list with a back injury, and Solder, who entered the NFL 10 years ago, is taking first-team reps.
But even if Solder remains there, Hernandez would be one of the line's most experienced starters.
"I've had the same mindset since I came here," Hernandez said after the Giants' opening camp practice. "I never looked at it as age, or who's the youngest and who's the oldest. My mentality has been always trying to help the guy next to me out as best as I can and make him look good. So, whether he's young or old, I'm going to do the same."
While welcoming the return of Solder, who opted out of last season due to COVID-related health concerns, Hernandez enjoys being part of the Giants' young line.
"We got to know each other very well last year, very quickly, and now going into year two with a lot of these new guys, it feels like I've known them longer than I have, which is really cool," Hernandez said. "They're all good guys."
Hernandez started each of his first 39 career games at left guard, playing all 2,523 offensive snaps, including 429 in 2020. But he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Oct. 29 and missed the following two games. Lemieux took his place at left guard and remained there after the return of Hernandez, who played sparingly and did not appear in the season finale vs. Dallas.
With the offseason departure of Kevin Zeitler, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens, Hernandez was shifted during the spring to the right side, where he last played full-time in high school. He lined up there today, with Lemieux at left guard.
"I'm pleased with how he's worked," coach Joe Judge said. "I think obviously physically, the shape he's returned in to play, he showed a level of conditioning through spring we're very pleased with. One thing about Will is he's just worked very tirelessly on everything we've asked him to do. He's had great communication with (Director of Strength and Performance) Fitz (Craig Fitzgerald) and the strength staff; (Director of Sports and Performance Nutrition) Steve Smith, our nutritionist; (Senior Vice President of Medical Services) Ronnie Barnes and his staff; all of our offensive line coaches. Will's just done a really good job of doing everything we ask him to do to the best of his abilities and that's all you can ask of a player."
View photos from the first practice of Giants training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Hernandez said he lost "about 20 pounds" through his rigorous offseason workouts.
"I did up my training, a lot more intensity, a lot more conditioning," he said. "Just did different things than I did in the past. There was a famous saying from my strength coach that stuck with me all offseason, 'You always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got.' So, I did a lot of things differently, ate different, I worked out different. At the end of the day, I still trained for football, still going out there and practicing the craft, just starting on the other side and that's about it."
The Giants will practice their linemen at multiple positions in camp, but Hernandez is already comfortable in his new spot.
"Once I get locked in on right, I'm right," he said. "I am ready just in case I ever get called back to the left, back to the right. That's the cool thing about playing both sides now, I can kind of transition a little bit easier."
If the two guards stay where they are, Hernandez will continue using his experience to mentor Lemieux, who often asks his predecessor for tips on playing left guard.
"That's a really good trait about him," Hernandez said. "He's a humble guy. He's smart enough to know that he needs to ask questions and he can always improve, and he just has that mentality. He's a great player and we do help each other out a lot."