Nick Gates’ improvement could make him long-term center

A season without winning is a failure.

A season without winning that does not include a heavy dose of player development is a waste, in addition to being a failure.

This is why it is vital for the Giants to come to grips with so many of the young players on their roster. They lost six of their first seven games, a sign the players are not good enough. When they say goodbye to this season and fail to earn a spot in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year – and the eighth time in the last nine years – determining who can help them in 2021, and who cannot, is of paramount importance.

This brings us to Nick Gates.

Do the Giants have their center for the present and the near future, or don’t they? Gates this season lined up at center for the first time in his career, college or the NFL, gaining the trust of the new coaching staff back in the summer and starting every game this season.

“Nick had his best game of the season against Philadelphia,’’ offensive line coach Marc Colombo said. “He had the highest game grade of the season. He’s playing at a high level right now. I think the confidence in the calls, I think the confidence there at center after getting a lot of snaps, he’s getting experience, he’s got the right personality for the position, he brings confidence and energy to the group, and it’s starting to really show.’’

nick gates could be answer to giants center questions
Nick GatesCharles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Gates, 24, struggled in his first start at center, as he was overwhelmed by the Steelers in the season opener. Slowly, gradually and painstakingly, he learned on the job as he barked out the line calls and got the ball to Daniel Jones without putting it on the ground. On either side of him, Gates benefitted from stability and experience at left guard (Will Hernandez) and at right guard (Kevin Zeitler). That trio started together for the first seven games, until Hernandez tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss Monday night’s game against the Buccaneers.

This was another test in a season full of them for Gates. He and several other offensive linemen were instructed Thursday to stay away from the team facility after contact tracing indicated they could be at risk for the coronavirus. That meant a full day of remote meetings and a missed practice session.

“I can’t control if I was sick or not,” Gates said. “If I was sick, I was sick, if I’m not then I can come back and play. I was trying to be positive and I was like I hope I’m not sick, I hope I’m not positive and things like that so I can help the team.

“I just trust the trainers and the experts and what they say. They said you had passed two tests or one the one day and two the next day. They said I was good. If they think I’m good and the experts say I’m alright to go, then I trust them.’’

Trust goes a long way. Gates must earn the trust of Colombo and head coach Joe Judge as they stick with him for the remainder of this season. They need to figure out if they should stick with him after that. He has not allowed a sack this season, according to Pro Football Focus. That is encouraging. He has been flagged for five penalties, the most of any center in the league. That is a strike against Gates.

The struggles of rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas are ongoing and well-documented. How the Giants deal with right tackle, with veteran Cam Fleming on a one-year contract, is also an issue. It will be good for the Giants to know if they are set at center.

“You know, there’s a long way to go with all these guys,’’ Colombo said. “We’re a young group and we’re fighting to get better. But the energy [Gates] brings to games, the fight, the nasty play, the smarts, he’s done a really good job with the calls, for the most part. It’s been a lot more consistent, not as much conversation at the line of scrimmage, that’s where he’s headed and I really like the direction that he’s going and we’re gonna keep pushing him. He works extremely hard, he’s in here first, he’s out last, he’s studying, he wears us coaches out trying to get the looks, everything right, and really love that about the guy. Again, we’re just gonna keep pushing to get better, keep growing, keep developing him, I like the future of this guy at the position.’’