We’re just about one week into New York Giants training camp, so with a day off, it's time to reflect back on what went down.
First, from a personal perspective, it was great to be back in a semi-normal training camp environment. No, we can’t roan the sidelines like we used to, and league rules prevent us from describing team drills which means we have to be careful with the information we disseminate.
And oh yes, there’s the twice-weekly rapid COVID tests, but hey, that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind in knowing that what I’ve been doing has worked to keep me safe so far.
But I digress. We can watch the entire practice from the patio without masks (though in the media scrum for interviews, I don’t take any chances).
We’re also back to doing interviews face to face, and that to me is the thing I missed the most. Having done player and coach interviews by phone the last year and a half, you lose out on that special connection you can make when standing in front of someone.
And even though we have to be socially distanced and masks are still in the picture, I’ll take these parameters any day.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride, but it’s a lot better than last year, and I appreciate whatever opportunities come my way to bring you camp reports, interviews, videos, and all the other stuff you’ll find on the site.
Now on to some football thoughts…
Things Change …
One of the very things I was looking to see from head coach Joe Judge was how much he’s changed from Year 1 on the job to Year 2.
The answer is somewhat complex—to say he hasn’t changed wouldn’t be doing the man justice because humans do change as they go through different experiences. But with Judge, I think he’s changed where he needed to, and he’s stayed the same where he’s needed to stay the same.
Where he’s changed is in his approach to players getting back on the field after an injury or COVID-19 bout. In the NFL, coaches only have so much time to accomplish what they need every day, which means the temptation to take shortcuts looms large.
With Judge, however, he’s done a much better job of being patient and keeping the players’ long-term benefits in mind despite the pressures of a results-oriented business.
The best example I can give you of this is Saquon Barkley. When I had my one-on-one with Judge before training camp, he explained why there has been no timetable on Barkley’s eventual return, unlike what you might otherwise be seeing across the league with other players who have injuries.
“I definitely want to take a long-term picture and view with him on this--and that's long-term throughout the season and long term throughout his career. And I don't want to do anything that's going to rush him back where he's not ready fully, because that's not going to benefit him individually. It's not going to benefit us as a team either,” Judge said.
“You gotta make sure that you want to put the players out there when their bodies are fully ready to go out there and compete. And when they can operate at full speed where the defense is operating full speed.”
I can’t help but think that’s a lesson learned from last year’s Daniel Jones fiasco, where Judge allowed Jones back on the field, although it was apparent Jones couldn’t move as well as maybe Judge thought he could.
So yes, it’s frustrating not knowing when Barkley will be back on the field, not just for fans and fantasy football participants but even for the coaches to a degree since no one can do what a healthy Barkley can.
But the bigger picture is what’s most important for Judge, who realizes that at this point in the process, time is on the team’s side. If the team intends to challenge for the NFC East crown, it’s better to have guys who aren’t 100% now take an extra time to be ready than to push them out and risk a setback that spills into the regular season.
…Except When They Don’t
One thing that hasn’t changed with Judge is his insistence that the team comes before any individuals and will not tolerate anyone challenging that core belief.
Kelvin Benjamin is the latest to learn that lesson when he decided to stick with what worked for him in the past rather than be open-minded.
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So when Benjamin did what he thought was best for him instead of what the coaches thought was best to help him get on the field, he threw a major hissy fit that became a personal attack against Judge.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know what was going through Benjamin’s mind, but I do know this. Not one team other than the Giants were willing to stick their neck out to give him a chance to put new film out there for him to continue his career after a two-year hiatus. And instead of making an effort, he throws a childish temper tantrum in which he basically picked up his ball and went home.
Accusing Judge of cussing? Well, duh, name me one coach—or player for that matter—who doesn’t let a cuss word fly in the heat of the moment. Saying Judge won’t ever win a Super Bowl? Uh, last I checked, Judge was a major part of a Patriots team that was a multiple Super Bowl winner.
So good riddance to Kelvin Benjamin and his sour attitude. And good for Joe Judge for upholding the “team first, team always” mantra and eschewing silly little things such as draft pedigree or free agency status in favor of the bigger picture.
'Versatility' is the Word
Ok, I’ll admit it. I listened to the Grease soundtrack before I sat down to write this, and I have “Grease is the word” swimming through my head. But for this article, “versatility” is the word, and I think it’s the right word to describe what the Giants have built with this roster.
The more you can do, the more valuable you become applies here, and a scan of the Giants roster shows that just about every player has versatility. And when you have a roster with players who can do so many different things, the possible personnel groupings and play options are endless.
It’s sort of like a Rubik’s cube, which by the way, I still haven’t mastered years later after receiving it as a gift. There are (supposedly) 43 quintillion ways to scramble the cube, which leads to an endless maze of possible solutions. But once you get there, the satisfaction of having solved it is like no other feeling (or so I'm told--I'm still waiting to experience that euphoria).
Sort of like putting a football team together to win a game, right? There are multiple ways to approach the game and attack opponents’ weaknesses. Having the versatility that allows you to change things up every week to become predictable is valuable.
And when you can catch the enemy by surprise, guess what? You increase your chances of winning, which is why having such a versatile group of players probably has the Giants coaching staff drooling over the endless possibilities they can piece together for upcoming weekly game plans.
The Giants’ addition of Joe Looney got me thinking about the offensive line’s immediate future.
Disclaimer: I have to see what kind of contract Looney received, but I have always wondered if there is a plan to move Nick Gates from center to guard.
Don’t get me wrong—I thought Gates did a more than admirable job at center last year, and I'd rather see Gates stay at center. Still, with such a critical year ahead and the Giants leaving nothing to chance, I can’t imagine, given how the Giants rotated offensive linemen in and out of the lineup last year, Looney will be riding the pine.
I go back to what Judge said about versatility and how he volunteered that Gates would get some work in at guard this summer. That got me wondering if Gates might be on the move, which I doubt.
The most likely scenario is Looney will backup Gates at center, and Jonotthan Harrison, who is on PUP with a hamstring strain, could be in jeopardy of being waived with an injury settlement.
Considering the Giants were interested in acquiring Looney last year, it's hard not to wonder if maybe a move to guard is in Gates's future and if so, which of the two projected starting guards (Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez) could be reduced to part-time status if that move is made.
It happens every year. I get so swept up in the grind of covering training camp that I miss out on something important.
This year, that something was the LockedOn Giants podcast's 1,000th episode. So let me take this moment to thank all the guests who have made time for me through the years, the fantastic support staff at LockedOn and Tegna, and, most importantly, all of you who have tuned in at some point or another (yes, even the critics).
When I started podcasting, I had to learn on the fly. I still am. I’ve upgraded my microphone (yes, I know, long overdue, but if you haven’t listened to a show lately, I think you’ll hear the difference in the audio).
In a few weeks, the show is supposed to be expanding to YouTube, and I’ll have to learn on the fly all over again, I'm sure. But at the end of the day, I enjoy putting the shows together as much as I enjoy writing articles.
While I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect, I’m incredibly grateful to those of you who have stuck by me all these years and to those of you who have found me and who make all the hours that go into writing and podcasting so worth it.
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