Graziano thinks Giants' Shepard will be limited to play
Dan Graziano breaks down the latest on Sterling Shepard's playing status and explains why Evan Engram will be the guy that leads the Giants in catches the rest of the year.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants right guard D.J. Fluker crunched his defender on one running play in the second half of Sunday's win over the Denver Broncos. What followed was a lot of yelling and a flying celebratory jump kick not normally associated with a man his size.
It was quite an unusual sight from a 345-pound lineman whom right tackle Justin Pugh once called the largest man he has ever met. Fluker had just buried a Broncos defender for the second time on a "trap" play where he came across the formation to block the unsuspecting defensive end on the left side.
It was the definition of what offensive linemen call pancake blocks.
"I got him good," Fluker said several days later with a gigantic smile that doesn't even seem appropriate for such a massive man.
This is what the Giants signed on for when they handed Fluker a one-year, prove-it deal this offseason. They acquired a powerful player who oozes enthusiasm and can displace defenders.
"He's one of the guys that you always see there on the sideline that's constantly trying to lift everybody's spirits and be encouraging and be positive and so his energy, as I mentioned, as well as his size and strength are things that make us better," Giants offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said.
There has been a noticeable difference since Fluker was inserted into the lineup three weeks ago. The Giants have averaged 130.3 yards rushing per game since; they averaged 48.7 yards in the first three weeks. The past three games have produced their three top rushing outputs of the season, including 148 yards Sunday night against the league's top run defense.
Fluker isn't the only reason, but he's part of the sudden surge. The 2013 Chargers first-round pick has proven to be the ideal complement to an offensive line that lacked a natural road-grader.
It took a while for the Giants to come around. Fluker was buried on the bench early this season, behind guards Pugh and John Jerry. The undersized Brett Jones was even ahead of him on the depth chart.
It took a slew of injuries and poor performances to get Fluker into the lineup, with Pugh shifting to tackle and Jones filling in at center for the injured Weston Richburg. The results have been encouraging.
"I think we brought him along at just the right pace," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said.
When the Giants signed Fluker, they viewed him as a right-side player. It became clear this summer that they preferred him at guard rather than tackle.
Fluker played guard and tackle in his four seasons with the Chargers. His skills appear best suited for right guard. The Giants have run behind Fluker often the past three weeks with his ability to move defenders off the line of scrimmage.
He also adds a unique energy to a Giants offense that desperately needed it after a sluggish start. Fluker had a key pancake block (also on a trap) on Orleans Darkwa's 47-yard run early in the second quarter Sunday. He jumped, yelled and celebrated after that one as well.
Fluker has injected life into an offensive line that had struggled, and it seems to be contagious.
"Absolutely ... there was the two big blocks that he had on inside plays that -- one was the 47-yarder that you mentioned -- and the other one was really just a 3- or 4-yard gain," Sullivan said. "But it was just such a devastating block that everyone sees on the sidelines, some of the defensive guys see and you look at the film room afterwards, and it does bring about just a sense of pride in the unit and just guys feeling confident, more confident I should say, in one another and there is that spark."
The offensive lineman the Giants didn't seem to want to play several weeks ago has quickly become a spark plug. And he's hooting, hollering and jump-kicking along the way.
This enthusiasm doesn't go unnoticed.
"He's a great guy to have. He's a lot of fun and a great guy to work with. There is not much getting that man down," Jones said. "He's a special person."