In March, I raised a question about the New York Giants’ starting right tackle job, which will be up for grabs in 2013 after 10-year veteran David Diehl failed to impress last season. According to a poll in that article, in which 1,200-plus votes were tallied, 49 percent of readers believed 2011 fourth-rounder James Brewer would be the Giants' starting right tackle in the upcoming season.
Since then, the Giants' first-round selection of Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh has shifted the landscape of New York’s front line. Some readers anticipated a rookie impact in 2013, specifically at right tackle, as reflected by 21 percent of the vote in the March article.
Pugh is an enticing prospect to imagine at right tackle next season. General manger Jerry Reese expects him to contribute this year (via NorthJersey.com), but he did not specify at which position.
Pugh described himself as a hard worker, someone that would “carry a lunch pail with [him] to work everyday” (via NFLDraftZone.com). While there may be an immediate need for Pugh at right tackle, he could become a long-term fixture at either right or left guard, considering Chris Snee’s age and Kevin Boothe’s contract situation.
At right tackle, Pugh provides a much younger, more athletic body than the 32-year-old Diehl. If he can acclimate himself to the Giants offense quickly and adapt to the accelerated game speed, which Diehl pointed to as the hardest part of the transition into the NFL (via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News), he could become the Giants’ starting right tackle in 2013.
Pugh may have a high ceiling, but it would be unusual for him to take over a starting role as a rookie. Under head coach Tom Coughlin (2004-present), first-round draft choices have averaged only 4.5 games started in their rookie season. No rookie has started more than six games since cornerback Aaron Ross started nine in 2007.
For Pugh to earn the starting spot, he’ll need to be very impressive early on. Since the offensive line must be synchronized as a singular unit, it is less common to see a backup offensive lineman worked in for a few snaps with the starters, like Jason Pierre-Paul did at defensive end in 2010 or David Wilson did at running back a season ago.
Because experience plays such a large role in selecting starters, Diehl still owns some leverage for the right tackle position. If Pugh is even a tad delayed in his development, a trusted veteran like Diehl could be thrust into the starting lineup. Even though his role has fluctuated, Diehl has always been able to land a starting job—it is doubtful that he’ll go down without a fight in 2013.
Brewer isn’t removed from the picture, either. The third-year man out of Indiana has spent the last two seasons as an understudy, and he has a weighty advantage over both Pugh and Diehl. Brewer stands at 6’6” and a hefty 330 lbs, while Pugh (6’4”, 301 lbs) and Diehl (6’5”, 304 lbs) both lack ideal size for an NFL tackle.
Brewer may be a massive prospect, but he has failed to seize the starting right tackle job from Diehl, Sean Locklear or Kareem McKenzie since becoming a Giant. If Brewer possesses an advantage over Pugh, other than his size, it has likely been absorbed from the sideline, as the former fourth-rounder has only appeared in eight career games, all in 2012.
The battle for the Giants’ starting right tackle position is level at the moment, but it will change very quickly. Every snap during training camp will matter for these three offensive linemen, as the trio of blockers will eventually settle into their roles along the offensive trench in 2013. Who will be asked to seal off the right side?