EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The state of the Giants' offensive line does not look good, particularly at left tackle where former first-round pick Ereck Flowers has struggled for several seasons.
At least that's the view from outside Jerry Reese's office.
From inside his office, everything apparently looks just fine.
The Giants GM said, flatly, "No" on Tuesday when he was asked if he overestimated the talent on his offensive line during the offseason. In fact he defended his decision not to pursue much help through free agency or the draft, just like he defended the players -- particularly Flowers -- he stuck with despite their questionable performance last year.
"I think our offensive line, we have some young players (and) I think they have improved," Reese said. "Do we want to upgrade our offensive line? Of course we do. But is our offensive line comparable to a lot of teams around the National Football League? Absolutely it is."
That is a stunning and very debatable statement given how much difficulty the Giants have had running the ball over the last two years, and how much pressure quarterback Eli Manning has been under in that span. The Giants rank 27th in rushing offense (83.3 yards per game), and that's including their 148-yard effort two weeks ago against Denver that sure looks like an anomaly.
Manning, meanwhile, has been sacked a ridiculous 17 times in seven games, putting him on pace to equal the career-high 39 sacks he suffered in 2013 - even though the Giants revamped their offense in Week 3 this season to include more quick drops and passes to help get around the pressure, and even after they dramatically scaled back their passing offense after all their receivers got hurt two weeks ago.
Not that any of that should have been a surprise. The Giants' line was terrible last season, too, but Reese's only move was to bring in a veteran backup guard (D.J. Fluker) and draft a project tackle (Adam Bisnowaty) in the sixth round. He chose instead to stick with his status quo and bet on improvement - particularly in his tackles, Flowers and Bobby Hart - that the Giants really have yet to see.
Sticking with the 23-year-old Flowers seemed like a particular gamble, especially as voices from around the league - scouts, former players, and analysts - universally panned the former first-round pick for everything from his effort, to his technique, to his toughness.
"It's like a common theme. Everybody wants to beat up on Ereck Flowers," Reese said. "Ereck Flowers is not the reason we're 1-6.
No one said he was, of course, but early in the season, when he and the line seemed to get pushed around constantly and Manning was being battered, Flowers was one of the biggest reasons. What Reese sees, though, is a left tackle who is as good as many of other left tackles in the league.
"I think Ereck has improved," Reese said. "All young players do have to develop and I do think he's developing. Is he going to be our long-term left tackle? We don't know that. But if you look at him compared to a lot of left tackles around the National Football League there's a bunch of comparables around. You put Flowers on some of these guys' jerseys and you're like, 'Wow'."
Maybe, but Reese obviously has some doubts about Flowers' long-term viability at that position. Even at the end of last year he mused about the possibility of switching him to the right side. But ultimately the Giants decided not to do that. In fact, they made no changes to their much-maligned line -- a decision Reese did not appear to regret at all.
"The starting five had a lot of snaps together and we felt like those guys, when you have some continuity in the offensive line, that's a help," Reese said. "And there wasn't a lot of choices out there to get. We went out and looked at a lot of different situations, but there just wasn't a lot of offensive line help out there from our perspective."
That's not completely true, though. The Giants could have tried to trade up in the draft for Garrett Bolles, who was taken three spots ahead of them in the first round and is now the starting left tackle for the Denver Broncos. They also passed on Cam Robinson, now the starting left tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Ryan Ramczyk, now the starting right tackle for the New Orleans Saints.
The Giants also declined to bid on several free agent options, including 35-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is now having a Pro Bowl-caliber season for the Rams.
"Everybody has an opinion on who was available and who wasn't," Reese said. "To us, it didn't make sense to us and that's what we went with. We want to be a younger offensive line. Again, do you want to develop a 23-year old guy or do you want to bring in a 36-year old guy? We chose to go the young route."
Reese did tout the youth movement on his team, although that doesn't explain their decision to re-sign 31-year-old guard John Jerry or invest in 33-year-old receiver Brandon Marshall. He simply chose to believe in the young talent he had, including Flowers. And he's fine with that, even if outsiders believe it hasn't worked out.
"We felt like we had some young players on the offensive line that had some snaps together," Reese said. "They flashed some good play at times. But obviously if you're not winning, a lot of things get pointed at. People like to point at the offensive line. It's totally not all on the offensive line."