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Giants have a lot riding on the success of their young tackles
The Titanic meme of an elder Rose Dawson declaring the length of time since that fateful day parades through my mind when I envision the last time the New York Giants had two reliable offensive tackles. The days of Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart seem to count tenfold, and the franchise hasn’t stabilized the position quite yet.
In the last two seasons the Giants’ two starting tackles have finished top 13 in pressures allowed. Andrew Thomas was second last year with 58, and Nate Solder was first in 2019 with 56. Cam Fleming was 13th last season and Mike Remmers was 10th. In 2018, Chad Wheeler finished sixth in total pressures allowed.
Suffice to say that the Giants quarterbacks haven’t had great protection over the last few seasons. Dave Gettleman invested big money into the position when he accepted the general manager role; he signed Nate Solder to a four-year, $62 million deal that has since been restructured.
Solder had a solid 2018 season but was a liability in 2019. His bend, ability to protect the inside, and handling of counter moves were troublesome. Solder is likely to be the team’s swing tackle in 2021.
Gettleman also invested the fourth overall selection into Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas. The former Bulldog had a rough start to his career, but his game steadied after the Giants’ Week 7 contest vs. the Eagles. He struggled a bit against the Cardinals and the Ravens, but so did the entire Giants offensive line.
A successful Giants team may be contingent on these two second-year tackles development. Peart, who showed some good qualities early in the season, contracted COVID-19 and wasn’t the same upon returning to the lineup. His natural gifts translate well to the NFL, but he has to work on his overall technique while possibly getting a bit stronger when engaged in a half-man relationship.
If Peart and Thomas develop as hoped under the tutelage of Rob Sale, Pat Flaherty, and Ben Wilkerson, then the Giants, if Daniel Jones also progresses, could be able to secure the NFC East title. There are a ton of variables that go into that, but it would be possible.
Key losses: Cameron Fleming
Key additions: Nate Solder, Jake Burton
Why the Giants could be better
Burton is a UDFA who is unlikely to make this roster, so the argument boils down to Cameron Fleming and Nate Solder. It’s a difficult argument to formulate – not because of Solder’s skill-set vs. Fleming’s – but because we don’t know what kind of player Solder is right now. The last we saw of Solder was in 2019, and it wasn’t great, but he was reportedly battling through all sorts of injuries. If Solder was unhealthy, and the year off served his body well, then he could be an upgrade over Fleming.
Fleming is an adequate swing tackle who was forced to start because Peart was a developing third-round pick out of UCONN. New York used Peart and Hernandez as a tag team to spell Lemieux and Fleming. Peart flashed and then failed to receive any snaps after three consecutive sacks were surrendered from his side vs. Baltimore (not all were his fault).
Fleming is a 28-year-old who surrendered 35 pressures and gave up 6 sacks last season – some plays and drives were halted because of the ineffective nature at the right tackle position. He ranked 98th in pass-blocking grade, according to Pro Football Focus. He was also 68th in run blocking.
Solder in 2019, his worst career season, finished 65th in pass blocking and 97th in run blocking. Neither grades, according to PFF, are desirable for a starting tackle in the NFL.
In 2020, Fleming was the starter for the Giants on a low-level deal. Solder is expected to be the swing tackle behind Peart and Thomas. Solder, 33, has been with the organization for several years now and he has a history of assisting younger players with their development.
When Solder came over to the Giants in 2018, he worked extensively to help Flowers progress his game. I think that attitude is infectious and important in a locker room. His play hasn’t been great, and what exactly can we expect from him with a year away from football? Can it be better than a younger, but mostly ineffective tackle like Fleming?
These questions are difficult to tackle, but retaining Solder on a cheaper deal and expecting him to be a backup to two interesting young developing pieces is a better situation than relying on Cameron Fleming to start the entire season.
Burton has extensive experience playing both guard and tackle; he played the latter a lot at UCLA before playing the former upon transferring to Baylor. He has big hands, his arms are short (32 ⅛”), and he isn’t overly athletic on an island. The UDFA will more than likely be moved to the inside like he was when he attended Baylor.
Why the Giants are worse
Nate Solder was a turnstile during the 2019 season. Fleming wasn’t much better. He had drive-killing plays, missed assignments, was susceptible to counter moves and looked inconsistent at times. Reasons for these inconsistencies may be due to him being a starter and logging more than 573 pass set snaps alone – the most in his career by far.
Fleming is an adequate swing tackle, not a starter. When teams can hone in on his deficiencies, then they can develop a plan to beat him. He was a respectable backup with Dallas and New England, only playing when injuries befell the franchises. He could have been a solid option for the Giants in this role, but the team elected to move on from Fleming.
The offensive line in general is a gigantic question mark across the board. Theoretically, the line should progress in a more stable position under Sale, but development isn’t always linear and some of these young players could regress. If that happens to either tackle or more likely an injury is suffered, then Solder, would be the guy to step up.
Solder has more questions than any of these other players. This could be a bad situation if something does happen to Thomas or Peart, whereas Fleming could adequately step in for a game or two and do a solid enough job not to destroy the team. Solder could realistically do this as well, but there’s more uncertainty that surrounds his overall skill-set at this time.
This seems like it could be a wash to me from a Solder v. Fleming standpoint, with the caveat of uncertainty looming as a possible catastrophe if something were to happen to either “projected” starting tackles. If Solder does beat out Peart for the right tackle position, then, more than likely, Peart didn’t develop as expected through training camp and pre-season. There’s a solid argument that suggests Fleming’s presence, as a backup, provides more security and a younger, more reliable player, than Solder who was dinged up and ineffective the last time we saw him – two years ago. However, I do appreciate the Giants keeping a two-time Super Bowl champion, consummate professional, like Solder on the roster for these young players.
Overall, the development that should take play with Peart and Thomas, coupled with the experience gained last season, would hopefully make these tackles more formidable than they were heading into the 2020 season. Peart and Thomas are primed for big seasons, and their play could help the Giants have one, as well.