Odell Beckham Jr. talks about his 2018 season coming to an end.
Art Stapleton, Staff Writer, @art_stapleton
EAST RUTHERFORD — Will Hernandez certainly was not keeping count.
The rookie iron man for the New York Giants has not missed a snap this season, quite the accomplishment considering the challenge he faced adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NFL within an offensive line that has gone through several personnel iterations over the course of four months.
When told he and left tackle Nate Solder have played every down the offense has taken this season, Hernandez embraced the news with a smile and — well — a shrug.
To the Giants’ second-round pick from UTEP, he’s just doing the job he’s paid to do.
“It’s a satisfying feeling to know that the team can count on you, and that’s how I want it to be for the future, too. I want the coaches and my teammates to know that they can always depend on me, and I’ll always be reliable,” Hernandez said. “Honestly, to me, it’s nothing special. It’s just simply me doing my job. They didn’t bring me here to play half of the snaps. They didn’t bring me here to play three-quarters of the snaps. So to me, it’s just coming here and doing what I’m supposed to do.”
Only 32 offensive linemen have played 100 percent of their team’s offensive snaps through 15 games this season, according to Football Outsiders.
Among them are Solder and Hernandez, who is one of three rookies with the Colts’ Quenton Nelson and the Cardinals’ Mason Cole to achieve that feat.
Hernandez quickly endeared himself to his teammates — and his rookie running back, Saquon Barkley – when he promised back in the spring that, if a defender wanted to get to the Giants’ first-round selection, he’d have to go through him.
Barkley needs 114 yards against Dallas on Sunday to become the third rookie in NFL history to gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage, and he would join Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James.
That’s a milestone Hernandez desperately wants for Barkley, just as another complete game from Hernandez is something that would punctuate his first season as a pro, too.
“Ever since he got here, from Day 1, he’s been pretty much as advertised,” Giants defensive end Josh Mauro said of Hernandez. “He’s been competitive. He’s been tough. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. You know, early, when he first got here, he had little miscues here and there, just learning and getting used to the speed of defenses. But just watching him in games, the thing I really appreciate, what sticks out to me the most, is that he really doesn’t get rattled. I think he does a good job of responding to bad plays he may have here and there, he doesn’t get rattled, he doesn’t show frustration, which is a sign of maturity, especially in a young offensive lineman. Because a lot of times, you can see guys get down on themselves, you can see when they’re struggling and that’s when you feed on them. That doesn’t really happen with Will.”
Hernandez believes his improvement has come through repetition, and he points not to his physicality, but technique as the key to making a second half leap in performance.
“The guys he’s playing against are better than any guys he’s played against [in college],” Giants offensive line coach Hal Hunter said. “He’s playing against the best guys in the country, the best 3-techniques and he’s locked up, so I think he’s learned to adjust to the speed of the game. …His missed assignments have gone way [down]. The first and second half of this season is like night and day in terms of knowing what to do. You just see him reacting quicker and quicker and quicker.”
Hernandez has gone from behind a step behind on stunts to anticipating what is coming next. For him, he hopes the best is yet to come, as do the Giants.
“This was a year for me to learn and to become an NFL player, and I think I did that,” Hernandez said. “I give a lot of credit to Nate for working with me, carrying me at times and teaching me the ropes. Now I feel like I know what to expect, I know what is expected of me, and the plan is to just keep getting better and better from here.”
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