Amid a litany of lingering criticism surrounding the trade of Odell Beckham Jr. and everything and anything to do with the New York quarterback situation, the Giants appear to have one longtime ill on the way to being remedied.
Over the last half of the 2018 season, the Giants offensive line improved. Eli Manning was sacked 47 times, but over the last half of the season was only taken down 16 times with the running game rising from 78 yards per game to 100.
Much of the credit for that must go to the play of then-rookie Will Hernandez, as the left guard’s play got better as the season went on and he joined all-everything running back Saquon Barkley on the 2018 NFL All-Rookie Team.
With his second offseason underway, Hernandez has settled in and appears poised to solidify himself as one of the prime reasons behind the New York offensive line becoming a plus rather than the lingering negative it’s been.
“It definitely doesn’t even feel like the same time of year that I had last year,” Hernandez said via the team website. “It feels like a completely different time of year to me. I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable here and I feel like I can breathe. I’m not struggling to learn the whole playbook, cram everything down, learn everything, make sure I don’t mess up. I’m actually able to enjoy it, but at the same time, work hard and get to know these guys even better.”
Many believe Hernandez’ improvement will continue in his sophomore season and it’s of no coincidence that the Giants‘ offensive line as a whole is expected to do the same.
Left tackle Nate Solder is expected to return from injury for training camp and he and Hernandez will be joined by offseason acquisitions Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers. Zeitler, who came to the G-Men via a trade with the Browns for Olivier Vernon that eventually became part of the Beckham deal.
Zeitler’s presence has been a boon thus far for Hernandez.
“He’s been phenomenal, not only as a player but as a teacher, too,” Hernandez said. “He’s taught a lot of young guys, including myself, a lot of technique. He was one of the top pass protectors in the league last year, so he definitely has a lot to offer and he’s passing it on to the young guys, myself also, and we’re really glad to have him.”
Historically, the transition for offensive linemen — from high school to college and from college to the NFL — is viewed as one of the more difficult due to the physicality, technique, fundamentals and likely learning a different scheme.
In Hernandez’ case, he started all 16 games as a rookie and got noticeably better throughout the campaign. So expect Hernandez to take his game to another level in 2019, perhaps moving forward into becoming one of the most highly regarded guards around.
“I think they always say from your first to your second year is the biggest step in improvement,” Solder said. “I have seen a lot of improvement throughout our whole group, so maybe you can characterize not just a person but the whole group from one year to two years and make a big improvement. Certainly our expectations are sky high.”