UNC coach explains how Giants rookies Joshua Ezeudu, Marcus McKethan can best impact O-line

·5 min read
Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan Treated Image
Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan Treated Image

It's rare that you see two players from the same college team end up on the same NFL team; it's even more infrequent that they play the same position. But that's exactly what happened for UNC OL Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan when Draft Weekend came to a close.

The Giants took Ezeudu in the third round, while McKethan came later in the fifth. It's clear the Giants need help on the offensive line, and they'll take all the players they can get. But they clearly like how UNC's line worked last season, with Ezeudu and McKethan being key cogs to that well-oiled machine.

“I think the one thing you’re gonna get is two really, really high character guys," UNC offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Phil Longo told SNY during a phone interview. "You’re going to get two intelligent guys. They trust each other, they count on each other, they communicate well. It’ll be interesting."

Longo explained that UNC's line is predicated on diversity, in the sense that their unit has to be as versatile as possible. It's what led to a 2021 campaign that saw QB Sam Howell throw for 3,056 yards and rush for 828 with 11 touchdowns, while Ty Chandler was another 1,000-yard rusher (1,092 to be exact), after Broncos RB Javonta Williams and Jets RB Michael Carter had tons of success in 2020 as well.

"Over the years, I think offensive linemen in this system have done a good job and have made an easier transition than some because they’re really asked to do everything in our system," he said. "They block gap schemes and zone schemes in the run game. They’re going to be asked to block out in open space on screens. Then, we can throw the ball a substantial amount. They’re asked to be in just about every pass protection scheme you can be in, from a man or zone standpoint."

And no one was more versatile than Ezeudu, or "EZ" as Longo referred to him.

Some believed Ezeudu to be a reach when he went No. 67 overall in the third round. Evaluators thought the Giants could get him later on. However, it was revealed that the Giants used one of their official visits on Ezeudu and clearly loved what they saw.

"What I do know is that EZ gives you tremendous versatility because he can play either guard spot or either tackle spot," Longo said. "If he’s doing a good job from a physical or athletic standpoint as an offensive lineman, that probably lends to his stability and maybe an opportunity to last a little bit longer in the league because he has the ability to play two different positions.”

The Tar Heels would actually move Ezeudu to a different line position in between drives and individual plays depending on what they needed.

"When we switch it, it might just be because we’re running a special play, a screen or an exotic play, something where we’re only going to run it once in a particular game," Longo explained. "So we might move him because he was the most athletic and most versatile lineman that we had. He gave us the opportunity to go play our best five and we can move him at either guard or either tackle spot to get the next-best combination of people on the field. He was our everything guy.”

As for McKethan, he was the bruiser of UNC's productive line, standing at 6-foot-6 1/2 and 340 pounds with 35 1/2-inch arms. He used all of that at right guard for the Tar Heels and was extremely hard to get the best of.

"You don't move Marcus, so the number of times Marcus got moved into our backfield, you can count that on one hand," Longo said.

The coach added that he thinks McKethan is "what you're looing for at guard most places," and that could be the Giants' mindset here with their fifth-round selection. The key for him getting some playing time, though, will be consistency.

"Three years ago when we added Marcus, he did some really good things -- he flashed, he wowed you at times, he was physically dominating at times," Longo said. "But struggled with consistency, and that wasn’t necessarily an issue for him this past season. Over the course of three years, he did a good job to develop himself physically, and I think he was a much more consistent college lineman opposed to when he first got here.”

Will playing time come their way? Well, both guard positions are up for grabs heading into training camp. There's multiple stop-gap veterans on the roster, with Mark Glowinski being the top candidate to land one of the jobs. But Ezeudu and McKethan have a chance to make their mark, or at least be depth pieces for the Giants right away.

Ezeudu probably has the upper hand, though, because of his ability to bounce around the line however the Giants see fit. Both GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll mentioned that versatility when explaining why they went with Ezeudu when they did.

Longo thinks both of them will be able to contribute no matter the Giants' assignment.

"I thought they were both really, really good students on the field," he said. "The two of them have played a lot of football together. They got 30 to 40 starts under their belts at North Carolina, which is a lot. They both have a lot of experience.

"I don’t have the pleasure of coaching them anymore, but I’ll be watching from afar and we’ll be taping every game. I congratulated both of them, I love both of them and I wish them both well. I have no doubt that the two of them will make a contribution to the Giants.”