Let’s call them “Frenchy, Dirtbag and the Crew” for now.
Maybe one day, if everything goes according to plan, an organic nickname will emerge.
This is the newest incarnation of the Giants offensive line, which at Thursday’s practice included left guard Shane “Frenchy” Lemieux and center Jon “Dirtbag” Feliciano – nicknames created by coach Bobby Johnson – as well as right guard Mark Glowinski and right tackle Evan Neal as the starters. Korey Cunningham filled in at left tackle for Andrew Thomas as he diligently rehabbed his surgically repaired left ankle.
Feliciano is the one most familiar with Johnson, after they spent the last three seasons together as player and position coach with the Bills.
“I joke with him every day: When I write the depth chart on the board, I write ‘Dirtbag,’” Johnson said. “That’s how he plays. Not in an illegal fashion, but he plays the game on the edge. You have to have that.
“Sometimes if you don’t have that in each guy, you have to develop that kind of attitude in the room. Jon plays that way. Glowinski plays that way. I think we have other guys that can play that way. They will find with me as their coach that if they don’t play that way, they will not play.”
The Giants used 19 different starters and 20 different five-man combinations over the last 65 games, as swings-and-misses mounted trying to fix a decade-long problem† Team owner John Mara never hides his belief that turning around the misery (19-46 record) starts with fixing the line.
“I don’t feel the pressure,” said Johnson, the Giants’ fifth offensive line coach in the last five seasons. “I just feel a responsibility to get them to perform to expectation – mostly the expectation of the ownership. This is one of the blue-blood organizations, so, yeah, I feel a responsibility to get them to exceed the ownership’s expectations.”
The key to the rebuild is the development of the two tackles drafted with top-seven picks. Johnson, who wants the unit’s identity to be “tough, smart and dependable,” voiced a big say in the rookie neal’s selection.
“He had whatever it is that makes me go, ‘I want to be around this guy. I want to coach this guy. I want to help this guy achieve his potential,’” Johnson said. “It was just that he wants to be really good. The more you talk to him, you find out it’s not lip service. It’s real.”
Showing patience with a rookie while expecting elite performance is a “delicate balance.”
The New York Post has you covered for all the details of the 2022 NFL schedule:
“He was drafted in the top 10 and came to New York City. That alone is enough pressure to crush a player,” Johnson said. “My job is to develop them all. I will stunt his development if I try to exert any more pressure than is already there.
“Evan puts a lot of pressure on himself, I’ve learned. One of my keys to him is, ‘My job is to coach you. If you need any pressure applied, let me do it. Don’t do it to yourself because you are too young, and you won’t know when to turn it off.’”
Johnson said Thomas’ movie is “very good.” After allowing 10 sacks as a rookie, Thomas cut the total to two in a much-improved second season. Developing consistency in day-to-day preparation is the next step.
“For him, it’s just about ‘I’ve got to get my performance to a certain level and then sustain it,’” Johnson said. “I think he’s just got a boatload of room to develop – and that’s not saying he’s performed at a low level thus far. It’s just, I think the world of the kid.”
Glowinski – the Giants’ biggest free-agent signing (three years, $18.4 million) – is a known commodity. On the other side, there is a logjam of potential guards, but Lemieux – a fifth-round pick in 2020 with a hockey surname and a thin mustache – has the early lead.
“Frenchy is doing a great job,” Johnson said. “I had a very high grade on him coming out of Oregon. I really wanted an opportunity to coach him. Now I have an opportunity. Is he doing what I’m asking him so far? Yes. Is he doing it at a high level? Yes.”
Eight of 14 offensive linemen on the roster were brought in by first-year general manager Joe Schoen. The second-team offensive line Thursday included Devery Hamilton, Joshua Ezeudu, Ben Bredeson, Marcus McKethan and Matt Gono (from left to right). Max Garcia rotated in.
While former starting right tackle Matt Peart (ACL) and center Nick Gates (broken leg) remained sidelined by last season’s injuries, Lemieux wasn’t even in the red jersey to signal injury maintenance despite missing the full season due to knee surgery.
“They haven’t said there are any limitations and [Lemieux] is not showing me any limitations,” Johnson said, “so I’m happy right now.”