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Whoever is brought in as the next general manager of the Giants will have to address several spots on their starting offensive line, perhaps all but left tackle Andrew Thomas.
As the maligned unit has disintegrated around him, the fourth-overall pick in the 2020 draft has made a quantum leap in his second NFL season, rising from the 55th-ranked tackle in the league against the pass as a rookie, according to Pro Football Focus, to No. 8 this year.
The 22-year-old Thomas has allowed just one sack and 16 pressures over 11 games this season, while committing just four penalties on 684 offensive snaps.
“Consistency,” said senior offensive assistant coach Freddie Kitchens, who has been calling the plays since coordinator Jason Garrett was fired on Nov. 23. “I think Andrew played well at times last year, but I think the expectation level for Andrew has gone up for himself.
“Everybody knows that he’s a talented player. But there’s a lot of talent out there that doesn’t really get there. Andrew’s done a good job on a consistent basis. You know what you’re going to get when you put Andrew out there.”
Kitchens and first-year offensive line coach Rob Sale have continued to deal with many unknowns in terms of personnel, including season-ending injuries to starters Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux.
Veteran right tackle Nate Solder should return for the game Sunday in Chicago after being cleared from COVID-19 protocols, replacing Matt Peart, who suffered a torn ACL last week during the loss to the Eagles.
Additionally, center Billy Price has not practiced the past two days due to personal reasons. Thomas also missed four games earlier this season with foot and ankle injuries.
“It’s been tough, definitely,” Thomas said. “With an offensive line, you definitely want to have continuity playing each week, but with the injuries that we had and obviously with COVID you have to try to be flexible.
“We try to preach a next man up mentality and do the best we can. A lot of other teams are dealing with injuries and COVID and playing good ball. We just have to make sure we’re doing our technique and playing together.”
Sale said the former Georgia star’s reserved and laid-back personality should not be confused with a lack of toughness or passion for his position.
“I was trying to figure him out when I got here, because he’s so even-keeled,” Sale said. “And hey, I’m fine with that. You give me five or six guys just like that, s–t, let’s go to war.
“But when you turn on the tape and you watch him, that’s what I like. I don’t care what a guy [says]. Some guys speak more or have better leadership skills than others, but I know what I’m going to get every single day with Andrew Thomas and I’m perfectly fine with that. When that ball is snapped, he plays.”
Sale doesn’t appear to be as impressed with backup offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson, a former teammate of Thomas’ at Georgia who may be needed to play Sunday if Solder is unable to go. Sale tersely responded “next question” when asked about Wilson on Thursday, adding several times that the Titans’ 2020 first-round pick needs to be more “dependable.”
“What I’ve liked about Andrew Thomas is he’s dependable,” Sale said. “Everybody likes somebody you can count on to be dependable.”
Whatever decisions are made concerning the rest of their offensive line this offseason, the Giants clearly will continue to count on and build around Thomas.
He certainly has made great strides since a Week 2 loss to the Bears during his rookie season, struggling against what he described as “some of the best rushers in the league and introducing me to what it’s going to be like week in and week out.”
Star Bears linebacker Khalil Mack is out for the year following foot surgery, but Thomas said he’s “just looking to continue to play as good as I can and for my team to come out with a win.”