New York Giants: Is Shane Smith the missing piece in run game?

Could undrafted free agent Shane Smith be the man to better the New York Giants run game and help with lacking pass protection?

It has been no secret that the New York Giants have really made no attempt in the past two years to bring a true fullback back into their offense. Sure, they have tried to plug other position players into the role with the team most recently setting their sights on linebacker Mark Herzlich to serve as a viable option at fullback.

As brilliant as the team thinks the idea is, has this approach really worked for the Giants the past two years? What is important to note here is that it is by no means easy nowadays to find a fullback in the NFL, as quality players at the position are few and far between.

With that being said, the New York Giants decided to take a chance this offseason and add undrafted free agent Shane Smith from San Jose State. Originally a linebacker early in his college career, he spent the remaining three years at running back and helped on special teams.

Smith impressed many at San Jose State’s pro day, benching 225 pounds 35 times and running the 40-yard dash in 4.81 seconds. During his college career, he also proved to be quite the blocker and a physical running back — which is exactly what the Giants have been missing.

Although it is too soon to even know if Smith will make the actual roster, Giants fans can’t help but wonder if he can serve as the final piece of the puzzle in protecting Eli Manning’s blindside and finally getting the run game going.

Let’s face it — the offensive line has been less than impressive the past couple of years and Ereck Flowers has not shown much improvement in his time spent with Big Blue. It can actually be argued that Flowers is regressing, but general manager Jerry Reese is looking to give him another shot. The problem: Eli is not getting any younger and they are simply wasting talent.

This is where Smith has the ability to come in, take the stage and lessen the number of hits to Manning’s 36-year old body. The added protection would also allow Eli to have more time in the pocket to find open receivers, which would back the defense up and open more space along the offensive line for the running game to get going.

Think back to the Giants’ past two, most memorable fullbacks who left their imprint on the offense, Madison Hedgecock and Henry Hynoski, and the role that they played in the team’s latest Super Bowl seasons.

New York claimed Hedgecock off of waivers in 2007 from the then St. Louis Rams. Some may say he fell into a lucky situation, being that he had the luxury of clearing holes for one of the most dangerous running trios in NFL history: Earth (Brandon Jacobs), Wind (Ahmad Bradshaw) and Fire (Derrick Ward).

Yet without Hedgecock’s physicality and toughness backing up that offensive line, Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward would not have had as many opportunities as they were presented and the run game wouldn’t have been ranked fourth in the NFL that year with 134.2 yards per game and 2,148 total yards. Oh yeah, they also ran all the way to a Super Bowl victory.

Hedgecock continued to fit perfectly with Earth, Wind and Fire, helping the 2008 running game finish first in the league, with 157.4 yards per game and 2,518 overall rushing yards. Ward described Hedgecock’s contributions to the team perfectly when he said, via the New York Times:

“We like to call him the Preacher because he said he likes to baptize people when he hits them. He’s the best fullback in the N.F.L by far. The offensive line is the bread and Madison’s the butter.”

After Hedgecock’s departure, the Giants brought in “The Hynocerous”, Hynoski, in 2011 to continue where he left off. However, despite the Giants’ Super Bowl win that year, the run game ranked worst in the league with only 89.2 yards per game and 1,427 total rushing yards. This was due, in large part though, to the absence of both Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert on the offensive line.

In 2012, the Hynocerous came roaring back to help the Giants run game cruise to almost 2,000 yards on the ground — much better than last place a year earlier. His impact was felt that year in the running game sure, but the passing game as well, protecting Eli’s blindside and unlocking from defenders to present quick, dump pass options for the quarterback.

Hedgecock and Hynoski were by no means the MVPs during the Giants’ past two Super Bowl victories. However, they quietly performed the way the team expected them to in the roles they were brought in to fill. Ward’s comment regarding Hedgecock speaks volumes into just how crucial fullbacks can truly be to a team.

This is evident in the fact that since Hynoski’s departure in 2015, the running game has struggled and Eli has been repeatedly pressured and rushed in the pocket. Smith’s potential presence on the offense, along with the additions of Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram, can provide that extra push the Giants have been missing to get them back into the playoffs and most importantly, the Super Bowl.

Giants fans should be excited to see what Smith brings to OTAs the next few weeks, though no one knows if it’s a preview of the season or not. One thing is for sure, though: Shane Smith has the potential to bring to the team what they have been yearning for and missing for quite a few years now: a fullback.

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