BEREA, Ohio – No matter what happened in the Giants' joint practice with the Cleveland Browns, coach Joe Judge would have said the team has a lot to work on. But the players seem unanimous in their excitement that for a couple of days they can work on it here, on an unfamiliar field in a different city against a team that isn't wearing the same uniform.
"It was great. It was great," safety Logan Ryan said. "I've been part of a few joint practices in my career. I think they're great, different stimulus, taking the show on the road, dealing with different pressures and stuff like that. (They're) kind of like the road games, so you've got to bring your own energy. I think we did a good job today. We won some, we lost some, but it's practice, you learn from it. Nobody was perfect today on both sides. Come back tomorrow and make the adjustments."
"I always say we could be better, but it was just good to get out here to compete against some other guys," said tight end Evan Engram, who was arguably the Giants' most productive offensive player. "Definitely higher intensity. Felt like more was on the line going into this. It's like a little mini game, getting live reps. I thought we did some things well. We've definitely got to get back to the hotel and look at the film and clean up the things that we need to clean up."
Safety Jabrill Peppers returned to the fields where he spent his first two NFL seasons after the Browns selected him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
"It felt good," Peppers said. "It felt good to compete against someone other than our team as well, so I'm glad about that."
Check out must-see photos from the joint practices between the Giants and Browns in Cleveland.
Joint practices are always conducted on a tightrope. Coaches want to see their players execute efficiently and aggressively, but not cross the line into gameday intensity. No tackling to the ground, no post-whistle shoving and jawing. Football players hit other young men for a living, but in this situation they must dial back and avoid hard tackles. And fighting is verboten. A brawl today ended a joint practice between the Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas Raiders.
The Giants and Browns practiced forcefully but professionally.
"I actually expected it to be a little bit more chippier than it was," Engram said. "Guys respect each other, we know we're trying to get work, we're being smart. It's camp so obviously we're grinding, but we're also protecting each other. It was good comradery between the lines today."
Judge said the controlled collisions were no accident.
"We work that every day in practice," Judge said. "We call it our team tempo and when we say 'team tempo' we're playing fast and we're playing aggressive, but we're playing controlled. We're playing on our feet, we're not cut-blocking or taking someone to the ground. We're not live tackling all the way to the ground, we're not taking kill shots on players. You can thud up a runner if you're looking at him and he has the opportunity of avoiding you. We're not taking any kind of shots on a player or a defenseless player on the side, we'll tag off. We're going to thud the runner close to the line then let him finish and carry down the field so all our defensive players can finish in pursuit, as well."
Judge spoke to the media before today's workout and revealed the plan for the two practices.
"We're going to work some team blitz periods, a different mix of team run and play-action periods, some team two-minute periods, work a seven-on-seven," Judge said. "You'll see a mix of the offensive line and defensive lines in one-on-one scenarios, see some receivers and DB's in one-on-one type of drill periods. You'll see the tight ends, safeties, running backs going one-on-one in pass drills. You'll see punt and punt return emphasis today in the kicking game.
"Tomorrow will be kick and kick return emphasis in the kicking game, but these are all things that you can really go ahead and work with the other team and make sure you're on the same page. You talk about the tempo of the drill, the reps of the drill. It's something that goes all the way up to as late as last night, making sure that we're both on the same page in terms of the health of the team, who we have available in practice, to make sure we manage the reps for everybody involved, and that we get the most out of practice, but that we're smart with our players."
Each team both made and missed their share of plays, offensively and defensively. The Giants' two-minute drill at the end of practice was frustratingly short, while the Browns extended longer than the defense would have liked.
"We've got to stay on the field there," Engram said. "(We've) got to start better on the first play, got to keep it moving, kind of get in the rhythm. We've got to stay on the field."
"It was a good simulation," Ryan said. "Yeah, they did take a lot of time, but we tackled them in bounds, we did what we were supposed to do. He threw one up in the end, I don't know if he came down with it, don't know if he's sacked, it's hard in practice to really tell those. We got to run a lot of our defenses in the two-minute that we don't get to practice all the time, so it was good. You don't know what routes they're going to run. We're used to our offense. I've got a good tell of their playbook, but I don't know this playbook. So, just running our defense against these guys and it was a good two-minute."
One notable confrontation was Peppers, the 25th overall selection in 2017, covering tight end David Njoku, whom the Browns selected four spots later. The 6-4 Njoku jumped high to secure Baker Mayfield's pass above the helmet of the 5-10 Peppers.
"I probably could've jumped a little higher or been a couple more inches taller," Peppers said. "But it was a great ball, a great pitch and catch. That's why we're here, to get that work."
Peppers and Njoku engaged in some good-natured banter on the spot where they so often practiced together.
"He said, 'Just like old times,'" Peppers said. "That was funny. We were going back and forth, me and Baker, me and Njoku. So that's been fun, as well."