Nick Gates is in the center of the Giants’ resurgent offensive line and got caught up in the middle of the Joe Judge-Marc Colombo feud.
Escalating tensions behind the scenes first boiled over at a recent practice, when head coach Judge corrected a technique taught by offensive line coach Colombo, and the two coaches argued in front of the whole team, sources told The Post. Colombo was fired last week for insubordination and replaced by Dave DeGuglielmo.
Gates declined to comment Friday on that seemingly awkward moment, but called it “difficult news” to hear of Colombo’s firing.
“The first four or five weeks, the offensive line was not playing well,” Gates said. “We couldn’t run the ball. Judge said a couple things here or there that he thought would help. We had to try to do our best and work with it. He’s the head coach, so he has some say on everything that goes on in the building.”
Philosophical differences about rotations were the root of the issue that combusted when Colombo called Judge a vulgar word in response to hearing DeGuglielmo initially had been added to the staff as an offensive consultant. The immediate player concern was that a new voice would want major changes just as the line hit its stride.
“We’re doing things a little bit different — things we’ve been taught in the past because multiple coaches have different techniques so you get a little bit here, a little bit there” Gates said. “I think the [changes to the offense] will be minimal and the outside observer won’t really notice. We still have the same system, same plays, same agenda.”
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett brought Colombo with him from the Dallas Cowboys to work under Judge. Garrett is no stranger to the challenge ahead. As Dallas head coach, he made an in-season offensive line coaching change in 2018 by promoting Colombo.
“The growth and the development of the offensive line over the course of the year has been significant,” Garrett said. “If you have the right kind of guys who love ball and want to work at it, hopefully they learn from the experiences.”
Garrett said he doesn’t “know anything about” an NFL Network report that Judge and some of the former New England Patriots assistants he brought to his Giants staff act arrogantly toward coaches without the same shared background.
“I think I have a great relationship with Joe,” Garrett said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. My time with him in New York has been a really positive experience. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him. I like the program we are trying to build here and how we go about it.”
Colombo is an adherent to the traditional “best-five” approach on the line, while Judge wants to play seven in a rotation, so young players gain experience.
The line played its best game of the season before the bye week with a limited rotation, but that strategy was seen as an act of defiance of Judge’s instructions. So, where does that leave the lineup Sunday against the Bengals?
The Giants are unlikely to rotate tackles because rookie Matt Peart will miss the game on the COVID-19/reserve list. Whether it’s Chad Slade, Kenny Wiggins or Jackson Barton filling in, benching starters Andrew Thomas and Cam Fleming is counterproductive, unless it is for developing Peart.
But the Giants plan to rotate guards for the first time now that Will Hernandez is recovered from COVID-19, Kevin Zeitler cleared the concussion protocol and rookie Shane Lemieux held his own in Hernandez’s absence. Indications are Lemieux will start at left guard and Hernandez — who played 2,523 consecutive snaps to begin his career — will be option No. 3.
“We want to play all of our guys,” Judge said. “Keep them fresh, keep them rotating. We feel we have multiple capable players at those positions. We’re going to use them all.”
Judge described the “very resilient” offensive line’s response to DeGuglielmo as “no different than any other week.”
“We can’t skip a beat,” said Gates, one of only two players, along with quarterback Daniel Jones, to play every offensive snap this season. “I’m excited to work with him and see where things go.”