Before the 2004 season commenced, ESPN’s Joe Theismann declared that the Giants offensive line was one of the worst in football.
Since then, they have blocked for some of the league’s best rushing attacks, and have typically given Eli Manning time to progress through his reads in the pocket.
But after a string of four strong seasons in a row, the Giants offensive line may be working against father time.
Kareem McKenzie is close to finishing up a six-year deal he signed in 2005, and is mere weeks away from turning 30. He has proven to be durable throughout his career, but has experienced back issues within the last year.
Generally back issues and offensive linemen at 30 years old do not mix well.
Shaun O’Hara received a lucrative extension after the team’s Super Bowl XLII win, but he will be 32 by the Opening Day. There were some grumblings that the Giants believed his performance has tapered off somewhat, and that they would address the need for a future replacement in the draft.
The Giants never drafted a center, perhaps proving that these were rumors with no merit behind them.
However, they did draft a tackle. With the second of their two second-round picks, they selected William Beatty, a left tackle from Connecticut. It is unlikely that Beatty will have an impact in 2009, barring goal-line situations where the Giants prefer to bring in an extra blocker.
The Giants believe that Beatty projects to be a productive left tackle, according to Marc Ross, the team's director of scouting. This may be indicative of doubts about current left tackle David Diehl.
Since he was drafted in 2003, Diehl has proven to be the ultimate team player. Never reluctant to switch positions for the good of the team, Diehl has shifted from guard to tackle, back to guard, and in 2007 back to left tackle.
He was rewarded in 2008 to a six-year deal with a salary that would be contingent on his position. Naturally, he will receive bigger sums of money if he plays a successful left tackle, a position regarded to be the most integral on the offensive line.
Despite being an anchor to one of the league’s best rushing attacks, Diehl’s pass-blocking has proven to be erratic. Although he didn’t give up a dastardly total of sacks (6.5 sacks in 16 games, 21st among left tackles), Diehl at times has looked horrid.
His sack total number has been reduced by Eli’s underrated ability to anticipate pressure and throw the ball away. Most noticeably, Diehl has looked overmatched when facing more athletic pass rushers, such as the Cowboys DeMarcus Ware.
Manning has taken some brutal hits off Diehl’s side, and has been lucky not to suffer a major injury. The Giants understand that Diehl is a serviceable left tackle, but his pass-blocking can be improved upon. By 2011, I believe Beatty will be the Giants' starting left tackle, with Diehl sliding to left guard.
Current left guard Rich Seubert has been an inspiration to many, bouncing back from a horrific leg injury suffered in 2003. He missed the 2004 season and had one start in 2005, but has re-emerged into a solid left guard for the Giants.
The leg injury likely will cut short his career, but it is safe to assume Seubert will remain productive for the next couple of years.
Lastly, the Giants offensive line holds the team’s best pick from the 2004 draft. Okay, maybe that is a stretch, but Chris Snee as the 34th overall selection has proven to be a gem for the Giants.
He was overdue for his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2008, and the head coach’s son-in-law has proven to be a menace when partaking in physical games.
Overall, chemistry has come to define the offensive line’s success over the past few seasons. They do not have many standout players, as reflected by the group's two Pro Bowl appearances combined since 2006.
But they are a cohesive unit that strives for excellence, and have set a tone of toughness every Sunday that rubs off on the rest of the Giants squad. Things likely will be no different in 2009.