Justin Pugh Predicts Key Position Change for Giants

Justin Pugh

Getty Justin Pugh thinks the New York Giants could make a key position switch along the offensive line.

Getting something from the their large investment in Evan Neal has been a problem for the New York Giants, but Justin Pugh thinks he has the answer. The veteran who joined the Giants during the 2023 NFL season and helped cover injuries along a beleaguered offensive line “wouldn’t be surprised” if Neal moves away from right tackle and tries a new position.

Speaking on “The Talkin’ Ball with Pat Leonard” podcast, Pugh explained some of the problems Neal has faced switching from left tackle in college to the right side in the pros. Using his own experiences as an example, Pugh admitted, “moving me to right tackle out of left tackle from college, I was swimming out there. I was, my technique was off, I didn’t feel comfortable.” Not until I went back to left guard.”

Addressing Neal’s situation directly, Pugh explained why a similar switch can help the seventh-overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft finally make the grade: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they worked him out at right tackle and at left guard. He may feel more natural at left guard.”

It’s a sound argument because Neal has the size to play inside, but the 6-foot-7, 340-pounder has struggled dealing with speed and agility on the edge. The Giants are in a good position to try something new after replacing line coach Bobby Johnson with Carmen Bricillo.

Justin Pugh Laid out Smart Plan for Evan Neal

Bricillo’s facing a tall task fortifying a line that allowed 85 sacks last season, 45 more than his group with the Las Vegas Raiders surrendered. The Giants have the draft capital and free-agency dollars to add talent to the trenches, but Bricillo could start by taking Pugh’s suggestion for Neal’s development.

Pugh knows whereof he speaks, having made the same transition after entering the league as a first-round pick for the Giants in 2013. It’s not as if playing left guard would be an alien concept to Neal.

The former Alabama standout made the SEC All-Freshman Team at the position following the 2019 season, per Matt Zenitz of 247 Sports.

Kicking Neal inside on the left would put him next to Andrew Thomas, the best performer on an otherwise dire Giants’ O-line. Thomas is a stud who overcame his own struggles as the fourth-overall pick in 2020 to become dominant at his position.

Neal has never looked like making the same leap, something highlighted by Empire Sports Media’s Alex Wilson as early as Week 1 last season.

Neal’s torrid second season ended with him having given up two sacks, five quarterback hits, 30 pressures and five penalties from 460 snaps at right tackle, according to Pro Football Focus.

Those are grim numbers, but giving up on a first-rounder with Neal’s physical profile and collegiate pedigree so soon would be reckless. Better the Giants move him next to Thomas and bring back Pugh as an experienced backup able to offer sage advice about playing inside.

Justin Pugh Still Has Value for Giants

Pugh joined the Giants’ practice squad back in October, but his status for next season remains uncertain. The 33-year-old told Leonard, “I love New York, I want to be back in New York. But if they have no want to have me back on the team, I obviously can’t just wait around like I’m at the prom with no date, you want someone to dance with.”

Health will be a key for Pugh, who tore his ACL in 2022. He did confirm on February 18 the “knee finally healthy!”

The Giants should be paying attention because Pugh was an asset last season. He offered some stability amid a damaging combination of injuries and poor performance up front, along with a revolving door at quarterback.

At this stage of his career, Pugh would be valuable as a swing backup able to fill in at guard and tackle on both sides of the line. His return wouldn’t prevent a team owning the sixth pick in this year’s draft, as well as $38,916,449 worth of salary cap space to invest in quality reinforcements at the starter level.

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