Nevada doesn’t have the biggest numbers when it comes to NFL players, with just 10 natives on rosters at the start of the season. But Thursday night at Gillette Stadium was a veritable Vegas Bowl when the Giants and Patriots met. Almost half the Silver State’s NFL ranks were on the same field.
Two of the Patriots’ best players on their top-ranked defense — linebacker Kyle Van Noy (Reno’s McQueen High) and defensive end Lawrence Guy (Western) — and Giants left guard Will Hernandez (Chaparral) and backup tackle Nick Gates (Bishop Gorman) brought some real Nevada power to the matchup.
Even Giants general manager Dave Gettleman was impressed.
“I guess Vegas grows them tough,” he said.
Van Noy was considered a failed second-round pick of the Lions in 2014 out of Brigham Young until he was traded to the Patriots in 2016 and quickly became an integral part of two Super Bowl champions. The Lions never figured out how to use Van Noy, who’s considered a tweener between a linebacker and defensive end.
But Patriots coach Bill Belichick has employed him at everything from outside linebacker and end to the signal-caller at middle linebacker, taking advantage of his ability to get to the quarterback. Van Noy’s 26 quarterback pressures this season are double the next player on the Patriots. The 28-year-old had a scoop-and-score fumble return to seal the Patriots’ 35-14 victory over the Giants.
“Sometimes, some players just fit into one situation and one scheme better than another,” Belichick said. “Kyle’s done a great job for us. He’s smart, he’s very instinctive, he does a good job with communication, he can call signals. … He’s made a lot of big plays for us since we got him. I’m glad we have him.”
Guy, 29, a seventh-round pick out of Arizona State in 2011, was with four teams before signing with New England in 2017. He plays an unglorified but vital position — his job is to hold the point of attack against multiple blockers to free up others to make plays — and is one of the Patriots’ most consistent players.
“He was a good player in Baltimore,” Belichick said. “He’s been a good player for us, but he continues to improve. … Sometimes things happen (in games) that we haven’t gone over or they’re a little bit different, and he seems to kind of always do the right thing. So he’s been really good for us. Gives us great leadership.”
In the Thursday night game, Guy tussled a few times with Hernandez, who has become one of the league’s top guards in his second season. ProFootballFocus.com has him ranked as the NFL’s third-best left guard.
“We’re very pleased with his development,” said Gettleman, who took Hernandez in the second round out of Texas-El Paso. “One of the things that really attracted me to him was watching him on film playing for El Paso and how hard he played for a team that didn’t even win a game. He’s got a lot of inner desire and drive.”
Hernandez, 24, is also known to be feisty, which pairs well with left tackle Nate Solder, who is known as a gentle giant.
“I think Will’s a tough son of a gun,” Solder said. “He’s real physical and gives it his all. It’s been a real pleasure playing next to him because he’s a real bulldog. I know he’s going to pick up any fights that get started out there. He’s just tough. He’s the tip of the spear.”
Gates, an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska in 2018, missed his rookie season with an injury but is now the Giants’ top backup. A tackle for the Cornhuskers, Gates also takes reps at guard and has dabbled at center.
“He’s a talented kid, and he’s very versatile. He’s really our sixth guy,” Gettleman said. “Tough kid, smart and he’s grown to be a very nice and versatile piece.”
The Nevada NFL ranks shrank by one last week when the Pittsburgh Steelers released tight end Xavier Grimble, a Bishop Gorman graduate, from injured reserve.
But what the Nevada NFL players lack in numbers, they make up for in camaraderie — especially the two Las Vegas guys on the Giants’ offensive line room.
“Me and Nick are very proud. We carry it loud and proud, being from Vegas, just two Vegas boys,” Hernandez said. “We give it our all. We want to represent, put Vegas on our back.”