EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Will Hernandez is learning an NFL player can go from protégé to mentor in about the time it takes to snap a football.
In his first two seasons, the Giants' left guard was attached at the hip – literally – with tackle Nate Solder, who tutored him how to be a professional in and out of uniform. They are the only two Giants offensive players to start every game the previous two seasons.
But Solder has opted out of the 2020 NFL season for coronavirus-related health reasons. One of his potential replacements is first-round draft choice Andrew Thomas, which would suddenly make Hernandez the most experienced player on the left side of the line.
Wow…that was fast.
"It really does seem like just yesterday that I was a rookie behind Nate," Hernandez said on a Zoom call today. "Now, I might have the chance to do the same. All I'm going to say about that is I'm not sure who's going to land in that position. I'll leave that up to the coaches.
"As far as having that, I learned from the best. Nate Solder really taught me a lot on and off the field. But he also taught me unconsciously how to treat a rookie. I felt like I got treated by him with the utmost respect, with the utmost attention to detail, wanting to help me to get better. It's just all those things I picked up from him looking back at it now. It's the same things that I would instill in anybody who was brand new coming in and playing next to me. I would take a lot of the same things he did with me and add my own personality to it. But I definitely learned a lot of valuable points from Nate."
It's difficult to evaluate linemen until the hitting starts and the Giants will first practice in shells
on Friday and in pads a week from today. But Hernandez has seen enough from Thomas, the fourth overall selection in this year's draft, to have confidence should the rookie take over that vital position on the line.
"First, he's a great guy," Hernandez said. "He can sing. He can really sing. He has a voice. He's a really smart guy. He gets things right away. He picks up on a lot of the stuff that coach talks to him about. He's able to absorb it and pick it up right away, which I think is very good. He just has that demeanor. You can see it through his note-taking, through his playing, through his practices, that he wants to get better. He wants to do good. That's just some of the things I've seen from observing him lately. I think he's going to be just fine. He's doing great right now."
Hernandez also praised Nick Gates, another potential newcomer to the starting O-line. Gates is expected to get a look at both tackles and perhaps center.
"Nick Gates and I spent a heavy amount of time training together in the offseason," Hernandez said. "We're both from Las Vegas, Nevada, we're really good friends. We got after it in the offseason. I've always thought he was a great player. I've always thought he has what it takes to play. As far as where he goes, whether he lines up next to me or any of the other spots, I honestly think Nick Gates could play any spot on the line. He's good enough to play anywhere on that offensive line."
As eager as he is to help his teammates, Hernandez's first job is to play as well as possible. He has not missed a snap since the Giants selected him in the second round of the 2018 draft. That kind of reliability and consistency is always appreciated, but Hernandez is eager to improve his performance.
"As far as last year, what's in the past is in the past," Hernandez said. "I've learned a lot since then. I really have been focusing on this new offense, new techniques, kind of like a new attitude for everything. I think that we've gotten a lot better since the offseason, at least me personally. I've been able to look back on a lot of things that I did wrong or I didn't do as best as I could, and I've been able to correct them. Now, I'm just focused on the future and what I'm doing now."
In one respect, Hernandez has had a rough three years. When he was a senior at UTEP, the Miners were 0-12. The Giants were a combined 9-23 in his first two pro seasons, leaving his personal three-year record at 9-35. Hernandez was asked how that "affects" him.
"I think a more appropriate word, rather than affect me, I think it's motivated me," he said. "Every single little thing that I do now is geared toward winning, toward 'How is this going to help me win? Is this going to help me win? Yes or no. No? Ok, I'm not doing it.' I just feel like every single thing that I do now, whether it's on the field or off, I either do it or not with the purpose of winning.
"It's just a lot of things I realized from experience, from things that I did. I was just learning and learning and learning about the mistakes that we all make, and learning from those mistakes. The motive has always been the same: win. But I think more than anything, what I did was learning from my own mistakes. That same factor of wanting to win was always there, but now, it's like, 'Ok, I can't make those mistakes again because I still want to win.'"
Hernandez believes new offensive line coach Marc Colombo can help him realize his goals. A first-round draft choice in 2002 by the Chicago Bears, Colombo played in 111 regular-season games and four postseason games in a 10-year career that included stops in Dallas and Miami.
"Coach Colombo is great," Hernandez said. "It's awesome having somebody who's actually been there, done that, 10-plus years playing. He definitely has a lot of inside information as a player himself that he can pass on to us. As far as being there with us, he's one of us. He's one of the guys. Of course, you separate that title. When he's coach, he's coach. You have that respect line. But it's cool having somebody who is very similar to everybody in that room and kind of gets it. He just gets it. That's something that any offensive lineman appreciates, a guy that understands you. It's a very unique position. You don't meet too many offensive linemen. There are not too many offensive linemen. It's a unique position. To have somebody that actually played there, it definitely helps us out a lot. We really like having him here."
View exclusive photos of the New York Giants from their 2020 Media Day.