You do not have to hand it to Matt Peart. But, if he gets his hands on you, there might be no shaking loose.
“He’s like one of the strongest tackles I’ve been against,’’ linebacker Oshane Ximines told The Post on Friday after a wind-swept Giants practice. “Once he gets a hold of you it’s hard to get off of that. He’s up there with the best with the grip strength.’’
Getting a grip is what everyone associated with the Giants needs to do whenever the state of the offensive line is discussed. Unhinged is more like it. With good reason.
It was out there then and remains out there now, the sentence and the sentiment that either will be an emphasis or an epitaph for Dave Gettleman’s future as the general manager of the Giants.
The Giants did not take an offensive lineman with any of their six selections in the 2021 NFL Draft. That was hard to fathom, and Gettleman was quick to explain why it was not an omission, but a strategy.
“It’s really apparent that we have a little more confidence in our offensive linemen than you guys do,’’ he said immediately after the draft.
He did not mention Peart by name, but he might as well have.
Peart is the key to all of this, like it or not.
Andrew Thomas, before he went on injured reserve with foot and ankle issues, was playing at a high level, and there are growing reasons to believe he will approach or live up to his lofty draft status (No. 4 overall in 2020). Nick Gates was developing at center before he went down and out with a fractured leg. Shane Lemieux, after an interesting rookie year, played 17 snaps at left guard in the opener before a knee injury ended his season. Maybe Gates and Lemieux would have been dependable guys on the line. Maybe not. We cannot evaluate what did not happen.
It is clear Will Hernandez, moved this season from left to right guard, is not the road-grader the Giants built him up to be when they took him in the second round in 2018 — envisioning him pile-driving holes for draft classmate Saquon Barkley. Hernandez is in the final year of his rookie contract and he could be gone or he could be re-signed to a modest new deal. Neither scenario would be surprising.
Peart is the key. He was a 2020 third-round pick out of Connecticut, possessing the physical requirements of a right tackle, but in need of refinement, muscle and moxie. He was intriguing enough in his 150 snaps as a rookie, but was slowed by a back issue in the spring and summer and never did what the coaching staff wanted him to do — beat out Nate Solder to win the starting right tackle spot.
Then came this season. Thomas got hurt and Peart started at right tackle for the game at Dallas. It did not go well. Last week, the decision was made to move Peart to left tackle, and his start against the Panthers was much better — his pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus was 81.9. Panthers outside linebacker Haason Reddick came into the game with 6.5 sacks and exited with the same 6.5 sacks — after devastating the Giants in 2020 for five sacks when playing for the Cardinals. In 211 snaps this season, Peart has allowed just two sacks and has been called for only one penalty. He will be protecting Daniel Jones’ blind side Monday night at Kansas City.
There are signs the Giants have something here. There are also signs Peart needs work. In the second quarter last week, the Giants had a 10-yard completion to Darius Slayton taken off the board when Peart was flagged for being downfield illegally.
“That was just a lapse on my part,’’ Peart said. “I got on the sideline, made the corrections and I promise you that will never happen to me ever again.’’
Peart is 24; Thomas is 22. If they can develop into bookend tackles, the Giants can figure out the interior of the line. Locking down the tackle spots is what makes everything come together.
“Since he’s been here, he’s just a really big, physical human,’’ Leonard Williams, the best defensive lineman the Giants employ, said of Peart. “He has giant hands, he has really long arms, he’s powerful in the run game, he has a good punch in the passing game.
“Even when he was a rookie last year, he was tough to go against. Some of the D-line, we even talk about how big and strong he is. Sometimes when he gets his hands on you and locks you up, it’s hard to get off of him.’’
Hands down, Peart has to be the answer.