Things Learned from the New York Giants' Off-season Practices

The Giants had a productive off-season, but questions still remain ahead of 2021
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The bulk of the New York Giants off-season is over, and with just a few stray OTAs and a rookie developmental program on deck, the next time head coach Joe Judge will see his entire team is on July 27, when they report for training camp.

Although a few clues dropped along the way as to how this Giants team might look, there wasn't much else to glean regarding lineups or anything specific from the practice sessions open to the media.

Then again, that wasn't the intention of the OTAs or the mandatory minicamp.

"Again the No. 1 focus is building our football movement, get the players in shape. Give them more exposure to our techniques and systems and schemes on the field," head coach Joe Judge said before the team hit the field for the first of the three-day minicamp.

"What I would really like this to do is just give these guys a jumpstart carrying into the five-week break until we head back to training camp, but they have got a feel for what they have to work on in that absence and also a feel for their conditioning and overall shape and strength they have to work on right now throughout the summer."

So what did we learn?

No Timetable Regarding The Injured

Judge has consistently declined to offer any details regarding the statuses of the injured players like running back Saquon Barkley (ACL), tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot), linebackers Cam Brown (unknown), and Ryan Anderson (unknown), and receiver John Ross (unknown).

It's possible that by not providing a timeline, Judge is trying to keep the pressure off the players to try to expedite things to meet that timeline (which would put them at risk for a setback). Or he could legitimately not know since it's only June.

But at some point, the Giants will have to start developing a more definitive timeline so that the players in question have time to get into football shape.

Daniel Jones is Progressing

There was no pass rush and hence no threat of being hit in the off-season workouts because of the rules (not that Jones's teammates would have hit him even if the rules allowed for it).

There was also no bump-and-run or any kind of attempt to impede the receivers as they came off the line of scrimmage.

So with that said, why might the Giants coaches say that Daniel Jones continues to show signs of progress, even if at times during drills he continued to hold the ball a little too long on some dropbacks?

Again, remember where we are in the calendar year. The coaches aren't necessarily concerned about would-be sacks or incompletions as they are about seeing how well Jones meshed with his receivers, both new and old, and, even more importantly, how well he grasped the concepts of the offense.

Perhaps that's one reason why Jones, when asked if this was a make-or-break season for him, chose to stay in the moment.

"I'm not sure I necessarily think of it that way," he said. "I think right now my focus is on what I can do to improve and I think making sure that I'm improving every day and getting myself in a position to go into training camp prepared and be prepared to start the season."

While he's not wrong to put the cart before the horse, at some point, the production is going to have to come.

Simply being able to make all the throws and make the right decisions, as the coaching staff often claimed was the case with him last year, won't mean a darn thing if the one stat that matters most--the number of wins, doesn't show progress.

The good news is the Giants are encouraged by what they've seen from Jones this off-season.

"His approach is outstanding," said offensive coordinator Jason Garrett of Jones. "His leadership has been off the charts and we are excited to work with him."

Speaking of Garrett

While most national talking heads are focused on Jones having a big season, Garrett is just as much on the hot seat as the quarterback.

Last year, one could argue that Garrett had the disadvantage of installing a new system on a new team without the benefit of an off-season.

Then throw in the season-ending injury to Barkley, which changed what the Giants were able to run on offense, the absence of Sterling Shepard for a handful of games, and the attempts to turn tight end Evan Engram into a master at running the Y-stick option routes that Jason Witten turned into an art form in Dallas, and it's probably fair to say that Garrett had a lot going against him.

But like Jones, this year, Garrett should also benefit from all the new talent the front office added in the off-season, leaving Garrett with no more excuses to flop around like a fish out of water in his second season as the team's play-caller.

"To add a couple new pieces to the offense, I think the biggest thing we tried to do as coaches is try to evaluate the strengths of all of our players and try to feature them in that regard," he said.

"The game starts up front as we all know, so controlling the line of scrimmage both in the run game and the pass game will be critical for us just like it is for every team around the league. Then you feature what they do best and hopefully you can make some plays and score some points."

For his sake, they better score points--and lots of them--because if they repeat last year's 17.5 average points per game, things with the Giants won't end well for Garrett.

Embarrassment of Riches

The Giants receiving game and defensive secondary needed upgrades.

Well, upgrades they got, and suddenly, those two spots are among the most loaded on the team.

Let's start with the receivers. By now, we know that the Giants added Kenny Golladay and John Ross in free agency and Kadarius Toney in the draft.

"I think any time you add pieces, whether it's in the draft or free agency, you're obviously doing that to help improve your team, create competition, get guys out there that can help you and make plays and become more explosive," he said.

"We are excited about the additions we have. We are trying to get those guys acclimated. We are also excited about the guys who were with us before and they have a year under their belt now. They will learn from those experiences and hopefully continue to grow."

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham likely now has what he needs to run more man coverage, which, based on his time in Miami, was his preferred method of attack than he could last year.

His new additions include Adoree' Jackson, Aaron Robinson, and Rodarius Williams, the latter two draft picks. Those players join an already strong unit consisting of James Bradberry, Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, and Isaac Yiadom, to name a few.

With the Giants due to face several teams with multiple receiving weapons that can burn defenses, Graham said he is thrilled to have that age-old problem of figuring out how to spread the snaps around to all the talent.

"You can't have enough good DBs because as you could see throughout the league, just take a look at the teams that would be the Super Bowl, Tampa Bay, they were five or six deep at wide receiver plus they had tight ends and they are going to have another tight end coming back," Graham said.

"So you have to be able to cover these guys, first game of the year against Denver, not that we are focused on that, but they have a bunch of guys injured coming back there to add to that list. So you can't go wrong with having a bunch of DBs."

The key, of course, is to keep everyone healthy. At receiver, Golladay is coming off a season-ending injury. And at defensive back, Jackson is as well.

But if they manage to keep all those pieces together, the Giants secondary--offensive and defensive, just might become the strength of the 2021 team.

The Offensive Line

We won't know what the Giants have in their offensive line until the pads go on in the summer, but there were a few early--and promising--takeaways to be had.

First, the Giants, in fulfilling general manager Dave Gettleman's belief that you have to let the kids play, appear to be going with a young starting group to be backed up by an older, veteran group.

This is interesting because teams in a "playoff or bust" mode (which, despite what the Giants say or don't say, is the case) are usually likely to mix and match youth with experience at key units like the offensive line.

The Giants, though, seem to be taking a different approach. They're having their veteran offensive line be their second-string unit (or safety net)and are letting the kids (Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Will Hernandez, and Matt Peart) continue to get their feet wet.

Joint Practices are On the Schedule

Last year before the pandemic wiped out just about everything off the NFL preseason calendar, the Giants were in talks with the Titans to hold joint practices before their scheduled preseason game.

That, of course, didn't come to fruition. To make up for the lost opportunity (okay, not really, but it sounded good), Giants head coach Joe Judge has scheduled two rounds of joint practices, one with the Browns and one with the Patriots, their preseason Week 2 and 3 opponents.

"I am a big fan of them. I think it’s a great time in training camp to break the monotony, to get some competition against a friendly opponent," Judge explained.

It's not hard to understand why Judge likes the idea of joint practices. When working against your own teammate, it can get tricky to determine if the offensive player or defensive player got the better end of the deal.

There's another element that Judge must like, and that's the element of surprise, as he alluded to in the following.

"I think it’s great for the team. It helps you get exposure to different schemes you may not see from your own team in training camp outside having to draw cards or scout teams. It is a way to take something off your players at a certain time.

"You kind of ramp them up and build them the first few weeks of training camp and then when you go ahead and do a cooperative practice with another team, you’ve got to figure it’s no longer the offense is always going, the defense is always going."

In other words, it's nice to see where the team measures up against different competition that's run differently than your club. As head coach, Judge no doubt knows everything that will unfold when the Giants practice, but when he puts his team against another club, there might not be as rigid of a script.

Although those joint practices won't be conducted at game tempo, they'll still offer the coaching staff real-time intel on how far the players have come in their development and understanding of the offense and defense.

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