Kevin Zeitler can’t explain it better than anyone else.
After Will Hernandez tested positive for COVID-19 last week, he and six other Giants offensive linemen deemed as Hernandez’s “close contacts” via electronic tracers were told to stay home and quarantine. How did Zeitler end up as one of the four linemen – and the only starter – allowed at Thursday’s practice?
“The joke around the locker room is either I’m really good at following the rules,” Zeitler quipped, “or I’m a terrible teammate. It’s one or the other.”
It’s not the latter.
The workhorse Zeitler is well-respected in the locker room and the best option on a shaky offensive line that could have three rookies – left tackle Andrew Thomas, left guard Shane Lemieux and right tackle Matt Peart — playing together at points Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because Hernandez is out.
Zeitler is the No. 43-ranked run-blocking guard in the NFL and hasn’t allowed a quarterback hit, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I think there is a great future to this O-line,” Zeitler said. “Not having a chance to do OTAs [in the spring] really was a pain, but there’s a lot of determination in this room. The longer we’re together, the better everything will be.”
The trade deadline is Tuesday, but the Giants have held onto Zeitler thus far because dealing him to a needy contender for a mid-round draft pick could stunt Daniel Jones’ development. Zeitler, 30, is owed $5.25 million for the rest of this season and his $12 million salary for 2021 shrinks to $2.5 million dead cap space if cut after a half-season rental.
“There are rumors that float around,” Zeitler told The Post. “The way I look at it is whatever happens is going to take care of itself, and I’m just going to keep working to get better every day.”
Acquired from the Cleveland Browns in a trade for Olivier Vernon in March 2019, Zeitler is running low on chances to chase a Super Bowl ring. Only eight of the Giants’ 53 active players are in their 30s as a long rebuild continues.
“Regardless of what our record is here, I like what’s happening in this building,” Zeitler said. “I like what Coach [Joe] Judge is doing here. There has been a lot of great change, a lot of competitive fight in the guys here. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Zeitler’s leadership was obvious Thursday as he helped the four remaining linemen navigate a strange practice.
“I was shocked I was able to come in because the offensive line does hang around so much together,” Zeitler said. “I was able to work with the young guys as we tried to figure it out, and I still got a good day of work in.
Hernandez’s streak of 2,523 consecutive snaps played to start his career will be over. Lemeiux was expected to be a first-time starter.
“To always be out there is a testament to toughness and strength,” Zeitler said. “COVID is probably going to happen to every team at some time or another. It sucks that it happened to be Will. We hope everything clears up quickly, and he can get back on the field where he belongs.”
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