EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - And the Giants' starting center in the team's season opener will be...Nick Gates.
Joe Judge said today Gates will get the start after a training camp duel with Spencer Pulley the coach once called, "scratch even." The Giants open their season Monday night in MetLife Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We're going to start Nick Gates at center," Judge confirmed in a Zoom call with reporters. "He's done a good job for us through camp. Spencer's done a tremendous job competing. We're very happy with both of those guys on the roster. We're very fortunate to have both guys working at the center position."
Gates' ascent to the first team is particularly impressive because he never played center before the just-concluded camp. At the University of Nebraska, he started his first 10 games at right tackle and the last 25 on the left side. After missing his 2018 rookie season because of a foot injury, he played in all 16 games last year with three starts - two at right tackle and one at right guard. Now he will move to center, where he will be responsible for making pre-snap protection calls.
"Nick brings a lot of flexibility to other positions," Judge said, "but that's the direction we're going to go for right now."
Gates won't be the only scrutinized performer on the line. Andrew Thomas, the fourth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, will play left tackle, where he will face two outstanding outside linebackers in T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. That duo combined for 26 sacks last season.
Judge has confidence in Thomas, but as the coach often says...
"We're confident in all of our players. We're going to put them in a position, we coach them hard, we're very demanding. Those guys go through a tough regimen on a weekly basis with Marc (Colombo, the O-line coach) and Ben (Wilkerson, his assistant) and being a part of that offensive line. We have a lot of confidence in all of our players. That being said, this is a great challenge for our entire team. The offensive line has a great challenge ahead of them with Pittsburgh's front. They're very talented, they're capable of having very disruptive plays, which gives opportunities to the back end for turnovers as well."
Last year's starting guards, Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler, are still on the left and right side, respectively. But including right tackle Cameron Fleming, the Giants will have three new starters on a unit that must play well for the team to succeed.
"There's not a lot of time for patience, but there's always an emphasis on development," Judge said when asked if he will be patient with a lineup that includes three new faces. "I expect those guys to play hard, I expect them to play together, I expect them to communicate and to adjust on the sidelines accordingly, and I expect them to fight for 60 minutes. That's the expectation for every player on our team."
*The Giants' final injury report included three players, all questionable with hamstring issues: wide receiver Golden Tate, tight end Levin Toilolo and rookie linebacker Tae Crowder. All were limited in practice today.
*Cornerback James Bradberry is a first-year Giant, but he already has more tenure than some of his fellow defensive backs. Logan Ryan and Isaac Yiadom, who joined the team last week and could play significant snaps on Monday night, are fitting in with their new teammates in the secondary.
"Logan, he's just a well-seasoned vet," Bradberry said. "He brought a lot of wisdom to this defense. He's played in this defense before, so he's talked to us about how they're going to try to attack us and whatnot. He's played Ben (Roethlisberger) and them before, quite a few times, so he's brought a lot of knowledge to the defense.
"(Yiadom) came over from the Broncos. You could tell just off his size, he brings a lot of size (6-1, 190). He can run as well. He's bringing overall athleticism to this defense."
*The Giants are 25-41-1 on Monday Night Football, including 9-11 at home. They lost both of their Monday night games last season, vs. Dallas and at Philadelphia.
*Pittsburgh has an enviable Monday night record: 48-24, a .667 winning percentage that is second in the NFL to Seattle's .722. But the Seahawks (26-10) have played exactly half as many games as the Steelers. Under 14-year coach Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh is 15-2 (!) on Monday nights and 41-22 in all night games.
*This will be the second Monday night meeting between the Giants and Steelers and the first in 29 years. On Oct. 14, 1991, Matt Bahr's 44-yard field goal with four seconds remaining gave the defending Super Bowl champion Giants a 23-20 victory in Three Rivers Stadium.
*The Giants will host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, Nov. 2. This season marks the first time the Giants will host two Monday night games in the same season in the 51-year history of Monday Night Football.