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Giants still unsure of running scheme with OTAs and draft looming

If the Giants take Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick they would likely go with a zone running scheme. Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants running game has been lost at sea. It has been floating there for several years. And they're still not sure exactly how they're going to find it and fix it under new coach Pat Shurmur.

The Giants running attack lacked commitment and identity the past few years, when they consistently finished in the bottom half of the league. The last time the Giants had a Top 10 rushing attack was the 2010 season. They were 26th in the NFL in rushing offense last season after finishing 29th the previous year.

With a new coach bringing fresh schemes, there is hope that the running game will improve. The Giants just aren't sure at this point what form their rushing attack will take by the time the 2018 season rolls around.

"We're going to see what our guys do best," offensive line coach Hal Hunter said last week. "If you got guards that can really pull and trap and run power plays, then that is what you want to do. If that is not their strength, then maybe you're more of a zone team or zone-lead team.

"I'm saying we probably won't know that until we know what we're going to hang our hat on until we come out of camp, had a chance to put the pads on and do those types of things."

They might have a better idea after the draft. By then the Giants will have spent some time on the field and likely added to their roster. There is a very real possibility they add Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick, or they could add a running back on Day 2 capable of contributing immediately.

Both the NFL's leading rusher (Kansas City's Kareem Hunt) and Offensive Rookie of the Year (Alvin Kamara) were third-round picks last year.

The Giants were a directionless bunch the past few years. They tried to regularly run power plays out of the shotgun. They played primarily without a fullback and didn't have a blocking tight end for most of the past few years.

At times they tried to run inside zone, but didn't have the elusive backs or line to make it a successful staple. In the end, they didn't commit to much of anything. They were a pass-first team that occasionally ran.

It seems that the Giants are leaning toward a power running attack this season as currently assembled. Hunter called new guard Patrick Omameh a hard-nosed, gritty, get-in-your-face tough guy. He raved about how newly-signed left tackle Nate Solder was one of the few left tackles who could run block.

The Giants currently have Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman, both primarily power runners, at the top of their running back depth chart. They could be receiving reinforcements.

"A lot of it depends on the running back," Hunter said. "I can say it is going to be physical up front. It's going to be a physical running game. It's not going to be a finesse running game. It's going to be a physical running game and it's going to be a multiple running game that will take advantage of the personnel that we have."

Hunter has coached it all. When he was in San Diego the running attack was designed to complement LaDainian Tomlinson's skills and desires. Tomlinson liked to run either behind a pulling lineman or fullback in a power scheme. They became a zone team later with Darren Sproles, who didn't want anyone in front of him to muddy his vision.

If Barkley is the Giants' pick, he isn't the kind of back who will pound between the tackles 30 times per game. He is likely best served in a zone scheme with his ability to get outside.

If the Giants don't select Barkley at No. 2 or with their first-round pick, another option is Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson. He could greatly alter their plans with the running game. Nelson's presence alongside Omameh, Solder, center Brett Jones and potentially Ereck Flowers at right tackle could make the Giants better suited for a power running attack.

The Giants have done their homework on Nelson. They talked with him at the combine and assistant offensive line coach Ben Wilkerson took in his pro day. He came away impressed.

"He's such a well-rounded player and person," Wilkerson said. "Check all the boxes with him. He's going to be a good player for a long time in this league."

Nelson would be a major help to the Giants' running game. Barkley or a second or third-round running back would as well. How it all pans out will likely determine what the Giants rebuilt running game will look like this season and moving forward, because the past few years it has been unrecognizable.