When Will Hernandez tested positive for COVID-19 in late October it not only stripped the New York Giants of their starting left guard, but their longest tenured starter on the offensive line. Hernandez saw his streak of 39 consecutive starts and 2,523 consecutive offensive snaps at left guard come to a screeching halt, as the three-year pro has missed each of the past two games since being placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list.
The good news for Hernandez, he’s set to make his return to the gridiron this week against the Philadelphia Eagles. The not so good news for Hernandez, the chances of him kickstarting a new sizeable snap streak appears all but impossible.
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Giants to Use 3-Man Rotation at Guard
“In reference to Will, he had a good practice yesterday,” head coach Joe Judge said of Hernandez on Friday. “We’re looking forward to him playing this week.”
Yet, how much he will play is up for debate.
Fifth-round draft pick Shane Lemieux has stepped in and started each of the last two games in Hernandez’s absence. While he may not have graded out favorably from an analytics standpoint, Lemieux has passed the eye-test, earning himself more playing time moving forward, likely at the expense of Hernandez.
“Like we have been doing, playing all three tackles, and we plan on playing all three guards the same way,” Judge said. “Will had a good day yesterday. I was more concerned physically with how he’s dealing with coming back. He’s still coming off of missing two games. We’re going to see him again today in practice and planning to see him on the field.”
Judge, of course, is discussing the much-debated three-man tackle rotation of veteran Cam Fleming and rookies Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart.
While the move was fairly criticized initially, it has not only improved the team’s run game and slightly decreased their sacks per game allowed average, but also appears to have lit a fire up under Thomas. The team’s No. 4 overall draft pick struggled mightily over the first few games of the season. While the ex-Georgia Bulldog still has ways to go, he put forth his best effort to date against Washington one week ago. In fact, neither Thomas nor Peart allowed a single pressure in Week 9, while the Giants as a whole averaged a healthy 4.7 ypc.
New York is hoping that they can find similar success in installing their rotation approach to the guard position. Hernandez and Lemieux will join starting right guard Kevin Zeitler in the three-headed attack.
Long-Term Impact of This Decision
This decision likely has as much to do with future roster construction as it does for the team’s current success. Zeitler is, for most people’s money, the Giants’ clear-cut best offensive lineman. With that said, that didn’t stop his name from being floated around as a potential trade candidate leading up to the deadline a few weeks back.
Zeitler and Hernandez each have just one year remaining on their current contracts. Hernandez has been somewhat of a disappointment since being selected in the 2nd-round out of UTEP in 2018. Zeitler, on the other hand, is set to turn 31-years-old in March. With Lemieux looking more and more like a player the Giants prefer to move forward with at the position, there’s likely only room for either Zeitler or Hernandez next season, not both.
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