After the Giants selected Justin Pugh in the 1st round, I gave my initial thoughts on him, and noted that I had a bitter taste in my mouth about him throughout the months leading up to the draft because of what I saw of him in the Senior Bowl game:
There was a series in the Senior Bowl game where Pugh absolutely had his lunch eaten on (I believe) 3 consecutive plays. Just an ugly series through and through. It’s something that I haven’t been able to get past any time his name came up during the pre-draft process.
Since then, I went back and took a look at some more tape of Pugh. I re-watched that series in the Senior Bowl (it was worse than I remembered), as well as his performances vs Rutgers and Pitt in 2012, and vs Pitt in 2011.
First, let’s look at the Senior Bowl, which was brutal. Pugh was playing LT, locked up 1-on-1 with Georgia DE Cornelius Washington, who was drafted by the Bears in the 6th round. QB Zac Dysert is still in his dropback, and Washington has already gotten inside leverage on an overextended Pugh:
Washington beats Pugh soundly:
And kills Dysert:
That was a sack fumble. To his credit, Pugh stayed with the play and recovered the fumble.
On the next play, Pugh was beaten by Washington to the inside again, although not as badly:
But it’s an All-Star game, and in All-Star games, they don’t call penalties, so Pugh basically tackles Washington. This should have been a clear holding call:
On 3rd down, after having used speed moves on the first two plays, Washington changes it up and hits Pugh with a bull rush. You can see here that Pugh engages with Washington at about the 38 yard line:
Pugh is driven back 4 yards into Dysert’s lap, making contact with Dysert as he is trying to throw:
The pass is off target and picked off by Zavier Gooden of Missouri. Just a brutal series through and through.
As I noted in the immediate thoughts on Pugh, it is difficult to evaluate players in All-Star games.
All-Star games are tricky. There are any number of reasons why a player may not look good. They could playing a different technique on the orders of their temporary coaches, or any number of other reasons that might lead to a false negative performance. I’ve discussed Pugh with my buddy Tommy Lawlor of Scouts Notebook, and he likes to note Andrew Whitworth, who had a horrid Shrine Game, but has turned out to be one of the best left tackles in the NFL for the Bengals.
In the three Syracuse games I watched (again, Rutgers 2012, Pitt 2012, Pitt 2011), I came away a lot more comfortable with Pugh. I would credit him with giving up 0 sacks in those three games, although one is debatable. Against Pitt in 2012, Pugh was initially engaged with the DE, who then looped inside. It looked like Pugh was expecting the guard to pick up his man with Pugh taking the DT that the guard was blocking, but the guard stuck with his man and the DE came free inside for a sack. It was too difficult to know what the blocking assignments were on that play, but I’ll give Pugh the benefit of the doubt on that one, as he wasn’t physically beaten on the play.
However, that doesn’t mean that Pugh wasn’t beaten on occasion. He was. Twice against Rutgers the rusher beat him to the inside, similarly to the way he was beaten to the inside in the Senior Bowl by Cornelius Washington. That seems to be his biggest deficiency in pass protection. This is where Pugh’s short arms come in to play. A player with longer arms is more likely to recover on those quick inside moves. Pugh has 32 inch arms, which are extremely short for an OT:
Still, Tom Coughlin has already stated that Pugh will “probably” be the starter Week 1 at RT, and I think that’s a good fit for him. Putting him next to veteran Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee should do wonders for Pugh’s adaptation into the NFL, and Snee may be able to help bail out Pugh if he struggles with inside moves early in his pro career. If Pugh fails as an OT, at worst he should be a good guard.
Where I thought Pugh excelled was his run blocking. I was highly impressed with his game vs Pitt in 2012. Syracuse had a 1 point lead late in the game, and were trying to run clock and ice the game. Pitt pretty much knew that Syracuse was going to run behind Pugh.
Here’s a 1st down play, where Syracuse’s blocking has broken down, with the exception of Pugh. Pugh is driving his man 4 yards off the line of scrimmage:
Here’s a 3rd and 1 play on that same drive. It was difficult to screen shot, but Pugh got low, drove his man a few yards off the ball, and opened up a huge void on the left side of the line. Easy 1st down for the Cuse RB:
Here’s Pugh driving his man way off the line of scrimmage on the ensuing first down play. Note the black line (the line of scrimmage):
And finally, a wildly impressive play. On 3rd and 3, desperate to get a stop, the Pitt LB (#44 below) tries to time out the snap perfectly (which he does) and get penetration into the Cuse backfield:
But Pugh is quick enough to get out of his stance and get a body on him. The LB then simply disappears into the pile (again, difficult to see here):
First down Syracuse. Ballgame.
Note that Syracuse didn’t even think about running to the right side. It was all behind Pugh. Pitt knew that’s where it was going and they couldn’t stop it.
The 2008 Giants used to get a lead on you, and then just bludgeon you to death with the run game. In those days, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie were at the top of their games. The Giants have always been a right-handed running team, until last year:
The Giants haven’t had good RT play since McKenzie’s decline began. Last season, improving the run game seemed to be a point of emphasis for the Giants, as they drafted RB David Wilson in the 1st round, a TE in the 4th, two offensive linemen, and signed a good run blocking TE in Martellus Bennett in free agency. The selection of Pugh could be viewed as an extension of their efforts last offseason. Pugh can come in on Day 1 and significantly upgrade the running game on that right side.
After having a chance to take a deeper look at him, I like Pugh a lot more as a player. To be determined if the Giants will regret passing on Florida DT Sharrif Floyd.