Will Hernandez has new challenge in Giants contract year

The answer is: Never.

The question: How often did Will Hernandez miss a snap in the first 39 games of his Giants career?

Ever since he was taken in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft — seemingly destined to pave the way for the first-round pick that year, Saquon Barkey, for the next decade — Hernandez moved in at left guard as if he owned the property. He started all 16 games as a rookie and all 16 games the following year. He started the first seven games in 2020. The Giants were on the field for 2,523 snaps on offense in that span and Hernandez, a true iron man, was there for every one of them.

And then, he was gone. Just like that.

“Did I like it? No,’’ Hernandez said Wednesday after the first practice of training camp. “But it was never, ‘Oh, poor me, blah, blah, blah.’ ’’

Will Hernandez started the first 39 games of his career, until COVID-19 hit.
Will Hernandez started the first 39 games of his career, until COVID-19 hit.
Getty Images

The demise was fast, with a hint of finality. He missed Weeks 8 and 9 last season after testing positive for COVID-19, sitting out for the first time in his career. The coaching staff inserted rookie Shane Lemieux in at left guard and liked the way the running game looked. When Hernandez was ready to return, he did so as a reserve. In the next six games, Hernandez came off the bench, playing as many as 26 snaps and as few as 10. In the season finale, with the Giants (at 5-10) still alive to win the NFC East, Hernandez was a spectator, receiving the first time in his career he didn’t play, active for the game but not used, at all.

“I didn’t like it at all but I had to deal with it,’’ Hernandez said.

“It was never that ‘Why me’ mentality, that victim mentality. I wasn’t raised that way at all. You deal with what’s happening.’’

If Hernandez is going to be able to resuscitate his Giants career — he is entering the last year on his contract — he will do it at a new spot. He is now the presumptive starting right guard, with this coaching staff ready to see Lemieux as the permanent starter at left guard. Hernandez said he has not played exclusively on the right side since high school in Las Vegas.

He downplayed the adjustment he is in the process of making.

“It’s basically just a flip-flop thing, you do everything that you do on the left side, do it on the right, except everything is reversed,’’ he said. “It’s not as hard as sometimes people make it seem.’’

Things could change, of course, and Hernandez — as well as most of the offensive linemen — will move to different spots during camp, creating as much versatility as possible.

Will Hernandez speaks with teammates at Giants training camp
Will Hernandez (#71) shows off his sleeker frame at training camp Wednesday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“Who knows, we may pick up somebody in the season who can play only left guard, or the strength is only left guard,’’ coach Joe Judge said. “We would make sure that both Shane and Will can both play on the right or on the left as we need them to.’’

To prepare for this, Hernandez changed his body. This time of the year is rampant with “best shape of my life’’ tales and “bigger, stronger, faster’’ promises. Hernandez is clearly a more sleek version of the 332-pound mass of humanity he was in his first two seasons.

Hernandez declined to say what he currently weighs — the roster still lists him at 332 — but said he dropped 20 pounds. He is leaner and more sculpted than he has ever been during his time in the NFL.

“Let’s not focus too much on the weight,’’ Hernandez said. “I did lose body fat, add muscle, it all comes into play, it’s not a straight weight thing.’’

Seeking a new offseason regimen, Hernandez opted to stop working out by himself and headed to Dallas, seeking out Duke Manyweather, founder of OL Masterminds. The results, at least physically, are profound.

“I’m pleased with how he’s worked,’’ Judge said. “I think obviously physically. He showed a level of conditioning through spring we’re very pleased with. One thing about Will is he’s just worked very tirelessly on everything we’ve asked him to do.’’

There were moments in his first two seasons when Hernandez resembled the player the Giants thought they selected — they had a solid first-round grade on him. Those moments were overshadowed by bouts of poor play, as Hernandez seemed to struggle processing information and mastering the fast-twitch life on the interior of an NFL line of scrimmage.

He is now looking to start a new and improved chapter with the Giants. He is only 25 years old, but it gets late early in these NFL careers.

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