It’s game day!
Okay, maybe not quite yet since Friday night’s Giants scrimmage will feature the Giants offense against the Giants defense, but head coach Joe Judge intends to let the two sides lineup as though it were a game day and play ball.
“I’m going to start with the mentality that we’re going to go out there and play ball. We’re going to simulate this game as much as we can, and we’ll let it be natural. Start with a kickoff, kick return, wherever the ball lies, we’re just going to play it from there. It’ll be offense vs. defense. If they go three and out, we punt, we bring out the twos, they go ahead and play,” he said.
Occasionally, Judge might interject to look at something specific, be it the two-minute drill or the four-minute offense. Still, this scrimmage's overall goal, which will be scaled down into a television production airing Saturday, August 29 at 6 p.m. ET on NBC-New York is to hold a dress rehearsal to help the coaching staff make roster decisions ahead of the September 4 deadline.
Here are some of the things I’ll be watching for in this week’s scrimmage.
Defensive Recovery. Patrick Graham’s unit suffered two significant blows to its depth when it lost safety Xavier McKinney and inside linebacker David Mayo to a broken foot and torn meniscus, respectively. The prognosis on Mayo is good as he should be back in about three to four weeks, but McKinney’s loss is huge, considering the coaches were believed to be planning to unleash a three-headed monster at safety with McKinney, Julian Love and Jabrill Peppers.
Presumably, Love will move into the starting free safety position while McKinney recovers, but it will be interesting to see if youngsters like Montrae Hartage or Dravon Askew-Henry end up playing some role in that mix as well.
Cornering the Market. The Giants seem no closer to identifying who the starting cornerback opposite James Bradberry will be than they were last week.
“In terms of our cornerback position, they’re young, and they’re improving,” Judge said. “It travels over from the individual drills to the competitive releases to the one on one drills to the group pass and seven on seven, and then on to the team full 11-on-11 drills.
“Listen, they’re young. They’re learning the speed of the game, they’re learning how to handle multiples. There are going to be things every day that are new to them. It’s not that they make mistakes, it’s that they can’t repeat mistakes.
"That’s our goal as coaches, to get them out there, make sure they learn from their own experiences and from the other experiences from their teammates, so they don’t have to have a mistake as well. But I like the way they’re working.”
Darnay Holmes and Corey Ballentine continue to be the leading contenders to start opposite of Bradberry, but Judge’s overall assessment combined with the Giants looking to sign veteran cornerback Brandon Williams sounds more like a glass-half-full endorsement on the surface.
Daniel Jones’ Pocket Awareness. Judge joked about the staff putting bars of soap into socks to use to whack quarterback Daniel Jones around a bit, but in all seriousness, don’t expect Judge to release the proverbial hounds against one of the team’s most important players this season.
“With a quarterback, you have to be smart about the contact. Will we put him into a live tackling drill? No. Is it something we’re going to bang around a little bit with a pad, calculated time and pads and make sure his body at least feels some pressure on it? Yes. Is there a time you’re going to kind of bear hug him a little bit, let him feel the grabs? Yeah, these are things you naturally have to do to get a player’s body ready.”
More importantly, though for Jones is that he be able to demonstrate when the pocket is closing in around him, which is something he didn’t always do well last year. As a rookie, Jones would frequently lock in on a target downfield and then get whacked if he held the ball too long.
The Giants have tried to run drills to get him to speed up his decision-making process and improve his ball security if he’s hit, but it remains to be seen if they can accomplish that despite cranking up the heat in the pocket.
The Sounds of Silence. The Giants will be playing most of their games this season in empty stadiums, which can create a whole new set of challenges for the coaching staff and players. Specifically, with no crowd noise to drown out calls coaching from the sideline and calls at the line of scrimmage by both the offense and defense.
“There’s different ways of camouflaging what you’re doing--having multiple words that mean one thing, everyone being on the same page with that vocabulary, being smart about when you raise your voice and scream across the field. Using silent counts, using signals.”
While one would like to think the Giants will be ready, mistakes can and will happen, so it’s good they’re testing out different tactics to figure out what will create the least amount of confusion.
Feel the Rush. Even though the pass rush isn’t going to be unleashed fully, one exciting thing about what Patrick Graham’s defense has shown is that it’s well disguised.
Graham has put out so many different looks. There are many possibilities regarding who’s coming and who’s dropping into coverage from each look.
According to outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, look no further than what the Packers and Patriots have run if you want a hint of what to expect.
“It’s similar in a lot of ways, especially they’re both 3-4 schemes. But I think it’s kind of similar to the Patriots scheme, which is a little bit of what Pat has done before,” he said. “On third downs and in those rush situations, there’s a little bit more creativity I would say with Pat’s defense.”
A staple of defenses that Graham has been a part of before has been having players mill around. Each look might initially appear the same but can have different parts to it when it's run, meaning that if the same lineup is on the field three plays in a row, that doesn’t mean you’ll see the same thing on each play.
“I think third down is going to be a fun down.,” Fackrell teased.
The O-line. Offensive line coach Marc Colombo has been getting down and dirty in the trenches, showing his charges how things are supposed to look. But while the Giants starting offensive line is beginning to crystalize, there are a few rough edges that Colombo is trying to smooth out before the curtain rises on the regular season.
The first is handling stunts and twists, which gave the unit headaches last year.
“Our defense does a great job with stunts, so kind of learning how to set properly, learning how to train your eyes, learning how to get proper depth, see what you see,” Colombo said.
“It’s really our job as coaches to keep giving them those looks. The harder we can make it on them right now, the easier it’s going to be come when we start these games here in a little bit.”
The other wrinkle he’s been trying to iron out is having his guys win the battle in the pit to keep the defense from knocking balls down at the line of scrimmage, a battle that right now has the defense favored.
“I feel like we have to anchor sooner and really the rule of thumb is, if (the defense) tries to jump up for a ball, you have to stick your hands in their chest and you have to thump them,” Colombo said.
“You put that on film a couple of times, it’ll keep them from kind of jumping up there. Our defense has done a nice job with that. It’s really about anchoring and being a little bit firmer in the middle. That’ll help that so they can’t help push the pocket and actually get their hands up there in that lane.”