The New York Giants kicked off the 2020 season by losing seven of the first eight games on the schedule. The team also lost its star player to an injury, running back Saquon Barkley, to a season-ending knee injury. Quarterback Daniel Jones, head coach Joe Judge, and the rest of the squad turned it around toward the end and finished on a high note, winning five of their last eight. However, the team’s offensive line still finished as one of the worst in the NFL.
In 2021, much of the team’s — and Jones and Barkley’s — success will depend on how much the offensive line improves. While most of the cast is still the same from last season, Judge has added a few people he thinks will help: four different offensive line coaches.
The New York Giants offensive line was horrible in 2020
The Giants’ offensive line didn’t cover itself in glory during the 2020 season. The group allowed 45 sacks on second-year QB Daniel Jones and didn’t help any teammates rush for more than Wayne Galman’s 682 yards.
The line finished the year as the second-worst in the entire league, according to PFF. In his “Final 2020 offensive line rankings,” Ben Linsey wrote of the group:
With one year in the books, the Giants can’t be feeling good about their decision to take Andrew Thomas as the first tackle off the board in last year’s draft, given the season he had compared to the tackles selected after him. … As you could guess for a team coming in at second to last on this list, Thomas wasn’t the only problem up front for the Giants. Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez both allowed pressure rates of at least 8% at left guard, while Cameron Fleming — filling in for the opted-out Nate Solder — allowed the sixth most pressures in the league at the right tackle position.PFF on the New York Giants 2020 offensive line
In 2021, New York brought most of this off-key band back together. The line still includes Thomas, Hernandez, Lemieux, and Solder is now back, although the G-Men’s first depth chart of the preseason has him as a backup. Nick Gates will start at center, and Matt Peart will play right tackle.
How does Judge plan to get more out of the line than he did in 2020? With a lot more coaches.
Joe Judge has four coaches working with the unit in 2021
On most NFL teams, there is an offensive line coach and probably one assistant. Judge and the 2021 Giants have four offensive line coaches. That’s 100% more offensive line coaches than most other teams.
The breakdown works like this, per ESPN. Rob Sale, a first-time NFL coach from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is the offensive line coach. His assistant is Ben Wilkerson, who’s been in that position for the previous three seasons. There is also Pat Flaherty, who was the Giants’ offensive line coach in the team’s most recent Super Bowl years (2004 to 2015). He’s technically a consultant but is coaching the line during camp.
Last but not least, former Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens moved over from his role as tight ends coach last season to the take the title of “senior offensive assistant involved with the line, almost as a run-game coach and assistant offensive coordinator under Jason Garrett.”
So far, Judge seems happy with the setup, saying, “It’s gone very well actually. I think all four guys do a great job.”
This season is make-or-break for Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley
These four coaches’ ability to whip the five-plus upfront into shape will play a pivotal role in the team’s success in 2021 and the futures of Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.
Barkley is in the last year of his 2018 rookie deal. The team picked up his fifth-year option for 2022 at $7.2 million, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after that. Coming off major knee surgery, he’ll have to start proving he still has his old explosiveness left in order to get a big extension in New Jersey.
Jones is a year behind Barkley contract-wise, but the organization hasn’t picked up his fifth-year option for 2023 yet. If the young QB spends another year running for his life or flat on his back, the Giants will likely be picking at the top of the draft again next year, and a new QB may be on the menu.
A lot of Jones and Barkley’s future depends on the offensive line improving in 2021, and the Giants hope they have the right (four!) coaches to help them do it.