It did not take Jon Halapio long to identify what he and the Giants’ offensive line need to correct.
“Just harping on the technique, identifying the defenses and finishing drives,’’ he said. “Finishing drives is our emphasis, something that we struggled with last year.’’
Yes, finishing drives — and, at times, getting a drive started — was a season-long struggle for the Giants in 2017, which is why last year’s offensive line is no more. It has been totally reshaped and replaced, a new-look unit with not one player returning to the same spot and three newcomers on the roster. Building cohesion takes time and throwing five guys together for a spring and summer is not all it takes. So, for the first time out, the Giants did not expect, and certainly did not receive, a vintage performance as they unveiled their line in the preseason-opening 20-10 loss to the Browns.
In real games, head coaches and coordinators probe to find out what is working, but in the preseason, anything goes. That is why, after the Giants ran the ball well early, Pat Shurmur decided he wanted to see quarterback Davis Webb air it out.
“I was trying to throw the ball a little more than the law allows,’’ Shurmur deadpanned.
In two series, the starting offensive line was asked to run-block seven times, with marginal success, other than the game-opening 39-yard burst by Saquon Barkley. The other six runs produced a total of 7 yards, with three runs of zero or negative yards.
“The running game early on. I think that was pretty good from the first run we had with Saquon,’’ said Halapio, the starting center. “That was a positive note. I think communication up front, getting everybody on the same page, blocking in the same direction, in the run game and the pass, that was pretty good.’’
The first unit allowed two sacks. On the first, the Giants were in a predictable passing down — third-and-8 — and defensive end Myles Garrett burst past left tackle Nate Solder to drop Eli Manning for a 3-yard loss. The sack was called back though, as Garrett — the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft — jumped the gun on the snap and was called for being offside, which is why he gained the advantage on Solder.
The marquee addition in free agency, Solder was hard on himself afterward.
“The great thing about having awesome teammates is that even when you don’t play well, they pick you up,’’ Solder said. “I thought that maybe I didn’t play well, but the rest of the O-line played great.’’
The second sack ended the night’s work for the starting offense. The Browns, on third down, brought two inside linebackers on a cross-blitz and no one picked up Mychal Kendricks. A communication breakdown between Halapio and running back Jonathan Stewart created a clear path to the quarterback.
“It happens all the time,’’ Shurmur said. “Unfortunately, they got us that time.’’
Will Hernandez made his debut, starting at left guard, and at times appeared to be a half-step behind, which is not unusual as a rookie catches up to NFL speed. Ereck Flowers, the erstwhile left tackle, made his first start at right tackle and did nothing particularly discouraging.
“I think it went well,’’ Manning said. “I thought everybody was on the same page — making some calls, making some checks, changing some protections, and everything. I think everybody is doing the right things. No delay of games or those types of things. I thought the communication went smoothly. Now, it’s just cleaning some things up. We left some plays out there.’’
No one expected this to immediately look like a finished product. Halapio was a backup last season and is a converted guard. Flowers moves from the left side to the right and there are all sorts of technical alterations he must make. Solder spent his first seven NFL seasons in New England, so there are adjustments in new surroundings. Patrick Omameh is another newcomer, starting at right guard. Hernandez, though he is a highly touted second-round player, is also an NFL novice.
“The biggest takeaway I think — the chemistry,’’ Halapio said. “The chemistry showed up early on in the run game. I think that’s a positive thing that we can build on going on to next week to Detroit.’’