At some point — most likely, at the very end of July or early in August — the Giants will assemble and hit the field. When they do, someone has to line up at center and snap the ball to Daniel Jones.
The identity of that player is one of the unknown elements to a summer filled with fewer uncertainties than usual for the Giants, as it pertains to their offensive line. It is easy to speculate on the starting tackles (Nate Solder and rookie Andrew Thomas) and even easier to anticipate the starting guards (Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler). The man in the middle of it all is a concern.
The contestants figure to shake out thusly: Spencer Pulley in the lead for the starting job, followed by Nick Gates and possibly Jon Halapio, if he is deemed recovered from a torn Achilles tendon and re-signed. A dark horse is Shane Lemieux, a rookie who started 52 consecutive games at Oregon — all at left guard.
It does not appear to be a particularly invigorating group of candidates and it might be true that the long-term answer is not on the roster. Someone has to initiate the offense, though, and what must be factored into the equation is Jones is entering his second year as an NFL quarterback and his first in offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s new system, meaning the more experience, the better.
That favors Pulley, the 27-year-old with 26 NFL starts, including nine with the Giants in 2018. At 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, Pulley is not a bruiser but he can make blocks on the second level. He is a product of Vanderbilt and has the NFL snaps and smarts to handle the assignment, although he lacks the ideal size and power.
“I think Spencer Pulley is a good center,’’ Shaun O’Hara, the starting center on the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII team, told The Post.
Gates at 6-6 and 318 pounds is bigger than Pulley and the previous coaching regime saw him as a possible option at right tackle. Gates started 25 games at Nebraska at left tackle. He started two games last season at right tackle and one at right guard, and took snaps in practice at center.
“We have faith in Nick Gates,’’ general manager Dave Gettleman said.
The Giants had their eyes on Matt Hennessy of Temple in the NFL draft, but they knew once they selected Alabama safety Xavier McKinney with the No. 36 overall pick that Hennessy would not be on the board when it was time for them to pick again, at No. 99. Indeed, Hennessy went to the Falcons at No. 78.
As soon as Gettleman took Lemieux in the fifth round, there was talk he would be cross-trained at center, a position he has never played.
“I feel like with center there is a lot more responsibility on you to know the offense and to know more of the defense and be more sound with what’s going on around you,’’ Lemieux said. “Obviously, you have to snap the ball. Those are the two of the biggest factors that are different.’’
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Knowing the offense and actually snapping the ball are the two biggest impediments for Lemieux, as far as gearing up to make a run at center as a rookie.
“The toughest thing a lot of guys have, if you’ve never played center, is shotgun snaps,’’ said O’Hara, currently an NFL Network analyst. “Most guys can figure out the under-center snap. Shotgun snaps, sometimes people become mental midgets with that and they just can’t handle it. It sounds to me he’s the kind of guy that is gonna stay out and snap 1,000 balls if he has to, to make sure he can handle that.’’
O’Hara was a left tackle at Rutgers and transitioned to center. He remembers personally screwing up two-minute drills in practice with the Browns as his snaps either rolled on the ground or flew over the head of his quarterback. He also recalls working on the center exchange and “busting a couple of fingers of a couple of backup quarterbacks’’ during drills.
Based on the all work needed to get it all down, O’Hara said he would be “shocked’’ if Lemieux at any time as a rookie took snaps as the starting center.
“For the sheer fact Spencer Pulley is there,’’ O’Hara said. “He’s not going to come in and be better than Spencer Pulley right away. Just from a mental standpoint, making the calls. And you got a young quarterback too. Daniel Jones has not seen every defense yet. Would I want a second-year quarterback and a rookie center playing? Heck no.’’