The Giants' offensive coordinator and his defensive counterpart, Perry Fewell, had to hit the ground running when training camp opened last week, installing their systems without benefit of the customary offseason meetings, minicamps and OTAs. Those were all casualties of the 4½-month labor dispute. And with two practices a day outlawed by the new CBA, they will have only 11 practices before the Giants open their preseason schedule on Aug. 13 at Carolina.
But that doesn't mean the coordinators have cut back on what they're teaching the players.
"It's different only in the sense that instead of this being the third time that you've gone through something – once in your OTAs, the second time reviewing it in minicamp - now it's the first time," Gilbride said today at the Timex Performance Center. "For the older guys it's more of a, 'Oh yeah, that's right, I forgot.' Or you're chipping off a little rust. For the new guys, it's the first time you've ever heard it.
"Trying to reconcile the pace with new guys who have never heard any of this stuff before with the guys who, you know, you're ready to work on the refinement and the nuances of some things can be a little bit challenging. What we're trying to do, to the best of our ability is go at the same installation pace that we normally do. What we're getting a chance to do is review it twice – once going in, practicing and then coming back and doing it in the morning. To date so far, I think we're doing pretty well. As it continues to go on, we'll see."
The animated Fewell, in his second season with the Giants, has begun building his defense with nuts and bolts.
"What we are really working on are the base fundamentals of football," Fewell said. "We haven't been able to see our players for six or seven months and we want to get the fundamentals of football down and there are a lot of fundamentals that you need to cover with these guys that they haven't worked on.
"We approach our installation as building blocks. We set a foundation and then we try to build upon that foundation. Then we build upon that foundation each and every practice. I was pleased the first two days but it will get tougher as we go along."
The challenge facing the coordinators is exacerbated by not having close to a full complement of players. Recently-signed free agents or players who renegotiated their contracts – Brandon Jacobs, Mathias Kiwanuka, David Baas and Kevin Boothe, to name a few – are not permitted to practice until Thursday, when the NFL calendar begins. And the Giants have been adding players to their roster every day, including backup quarterback David Carr today.
"We really won't know the makeup of our team for several weeks," Fewell said. "There are a lot of things that will happen. Some of the players cannot practice until August 4. You make plans but you can't employ those plans until you have your entire team together and then once you have your entire team together, you game plan."
Both sides of the ball have several veterans for whom this week's work is largely a refresher course and can help accelerate the newcomers' learning curve. The most significant of those would seem to be quarterback Eli Manning, now in his eighth season, but Gilbride downplayed how much his presence will help the entire group grasp the offense.
"It's an advantage at that position," Gilbride said. "It doesn't help anybody else, but it helps him because that is always going to be the hub of the wheel. To have a guy that is playing the most indispensable role familiar with what you're trying to achieve is certainly beneficial."
Most players seem to have adjusted well to the new schedule, which features a full day of learning and practices in the evening.
"They're throwing a lot at us," said Sage Rosenfels, Manning's backup last season who now faces competition from Carr. "But luckily, we have all these walk-thrus that are really helping get a lot of intro into all the different protections and different runs, so when we step on that field, it's not like we learned it in the meeting five minutes ago. We've had all day long, and maybe even the day before, to install a lot of these things and study them on your own time back in the hotel room or during the lunch period. I think that's why practices have gone fairly smooth, especially with the ones (starters), because it's the offense they've had. But even with the twos, they've done a pretty good job of keeping up and learning every day."
The offensive players knew before camp opened that Gilbride was not going to spoon-feed them.
"The guys that know Coach Gilbride know he likes to do a lot of different things and even though we're in a different situation than we have been in the past, to be successful we're going to have to do those things," Rosenfels said. "Luckily, we have a veteran offense. So the young guys have to catch up. He's not going to hold the older guys back who are going to be playing for us this year just so the young guys can learn. I've tried to help some of the young guys as best I can by being a coach on the field."
Fewell's nature is to move full speed ahead, so he's giving the defense as much as it can digest.
"We're in a camp full throttle," middle linebacker Jonathan Goff said. "They're giving us as much information as they believe we can handle. We're practicing once a day, so we have to take advantage of all the teaching and study and learn. We're getting more mental reps. We're still playing Giant defense. That hasn't changed."
But for the veteran players, it's unusual to begin camp without having worked with their coaches for almost seven months.
"It is a little weird," Rosenfels said. "The first few days without the pads has made it feel a little more like a minicamp. But once we get the pads on I think it will surely feel like training camp and the hitting will be going on and we'll be little more sore. To think we have a preseason game in less than two weeks is very strange."
Welcome to the NFL in the summer of 2011.