Although there was much to like about New York Giants head coach Joe Judge’s first season, the bottom line is that a 6-10 record just isn’t good enough.
Judge is well aware of that, and as he prepares to open his second training camp as Giants head coach, he does so a year older and, in his words, hopefully, a year wiser in being better able to handle the good, the bad, and the unexpected.
To put himself in that position, Judge said he spent a lot of time in the off-season self-reflecting on the job he did last year, the decisions he made and those he didn’t, and he is determined to build on what he did well and improve on what he didn’t.
“I took a lot of time this off-season to really break down everything that happened last year across the board from start to finish and kind of look at everything and, 'Okay, how could I handle it better? And what experiences kind of learn from, and what mistakes do I not want to repeat--which is any mistake, by the way,” he told Giants Country by phone during an exclusive interview.
“I could sit here and talk for hours about lessons I learned in different things, but I think ultimately, it's the experience that I've gained that I think I can better help the team now.”
Judge didn’t go into specifics, but as he spoke, it was clear that there were things that popped up last year that might have altered the path to success the team initially planned to take.
First, there were the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which for some players, coaches and staff, put a strain on their mental health due to the sacrifices that had to be made to comply with league protocols.
Then there were occurrences such as the unexpected and devastating Week 2 season-ending injury suffered by running back Saquon Barkley, a key player not just in terms of the offense but also in the locker room.
“I think you learn a lot more from tougher times than when you had success,” Judge said. “There were a lot of times last year where the first time something comes up, it’s something you never heard of or experienced, or anticipated you’d experience, so how do you handle it?
“Now, with most things, you can see it coming down the pipe a little bit more and you have a better idea of how to prepare your staff.”
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It helps that Judge has a better feel for the group dynamics of his coaching staff, who didn’t get to work together as a group in person until just before the start of last year’s training camp. It also helps that he has a better feel for the pulse of the locker room.
“Last year, we're trying to find out who the leaders were and who was respected on the team,” Judge said. “You come in, and you can read through a roster and listen to what somebody else says, but until you're around and see who responds to who, you don’t know what you have.
“This year, it was more about developing that leadership on a team or working with your players and, you know, recognizing young guys you think you can have an impact and growing them or older guys and give them more of a platform. So you're, you're a few steps further ahead than you were last year when you're really truly trying to learn what you have.”
With the core in place, it now becomes about incorporating the new faces. “I do believe that each year is a new year, each team is a new team,” Judge said.
“We have a lot of new faces that are going to have impact roles for us this year that weren't here last year with us. But you know, when you have the majority of the guys back, you have a much greater start on where you want to get to. And the understanding of what the expectations are is a lot higher.”
Judge noted that while last year the players were learning a lot of new things—new playbooks and new expectations—this year, the team's core should be able to hit the ground running and not think twice about whether they comply with what’s expected.
“In terms of measuring the culture last year, it was a lot of teaching what we want to be this year,” he said. “This year, it’s a lot more of watching the players enforce it, watching the players deliver the message. And that's been really good because that's when you know what's going in the right direction.
“I think when we get on the field next week, that first impression for me will be big," he added. "When you lay out the expectation for what it's supposed to be like when you get back, let's see how these guys return."
"The Good, Great & Ugly" Series
WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram | S Jabrill Peppers | S Xavier McKinney | ILB Reggie Ragland | WR John Ross | TE Kyle Rudolph | OLB Oshane Ximines | LB Carter Coughlin | IDL Dexter Lawrence II | WR Darius Slayton | LB Cam Brown | DL Leonard Williams | OL Will Hernandez | IDL Austin Johnson | IDL B.J. Hill | WR Sterling Shepard | ILB Blake Martinez | DB Logan Ryan | C Nick Gates | OT Matt Peart | CB Darnay Holmes | ILB Tae Crowder | CB James Bradberry
Find all our training camp player previews in one spot. New profiles are added daily until we get to the end of the roster.