EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Coach’s Corner, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: On Sunday, you will play in Dallas on what will be your 21*st* consecutive kickoff weekend in the NFL. Is this as exciting as your first, your fifth, your 10th? Do you still have the same emotions, the same feelings you had when you were coaching Philadelphia’s tight ends 20 years ago?
Shurmur: “I do. Game day never gets old for me, and certainly opening day never gets old. We put a lot of work into getting ready for the first game, and you look forward to playing it. The anticipation that builds as we get ready to play on Sunday, it never gets old for me.”
Q: How about the morning of the game, do you get butterflies? Are you excited? What is it like for you?
Shurmur: “I’m excited for the players. Again, I feel good about our preparation. When you play a game, there are a lot of uncontrolled things that can happen. I just want to make sure I help the players be as good as they can be and hopefully give them the best chance to go out and execute.”
Q: People outside the building look at the Giants as a team looking to make a big jump and this as a very big opener – on the road against the defending division champion. Do you place more importance on any one game than any other?
Shurmur: “No. Certainly, the first game is important. Anytime you can get an opening day win, it helps build confidence with your team. But you have to play the game, do everything you can to win it and then react to the outcome after that. Obviously, we’re looking forward to playing Dallas.”
Q: You brought in a lot of new players; almost 40% of the roster has changed, which is a higher percentage than usual. Given that, is it harder to get a feel for how your team is going to perform in an opening game because there is so much newness?
Shurmur: “Well, there’s a lot of new, and we had a lot of young players play last year, so there’s a good bit of this roster that I feel like I know how they’re going to react to adversity as well as success. We just build on that. I’ve gotten a good feel for the new players we brought in. I feel like I have a good feel for them. A lot of these guys that we brought in are veteran players, so you’re able to see how they played before they got here.”
Q: You kind of snicker at the idea of wholesale halftime adjustments because, as you say, there are adjustments going on all the time. Is there more of that in an opening game because everyone hides what they’re really going to do during the preseason? I would assume there’s more that’s unexpected in an opening game. Is that a fair statement?
Shurmur: “I think it’s fair. I think everybody holds something back on offense, defense and special teams. That’s why you always have to play with great fundamentals, great eyes and great discipline. But it’s never more important than in the first game, where there is a little bit of uncertainty, even for a staff that’s been together for as long as they have in Dallas.”
Q: You said the other day that you like this team, you like this group of players. What specifically about them do you like or admire?
Shurmur: “They’ve come together as a team. Now we’ll galvanize ourselves as we go through the season. I’m looking forward to this group, as you go through the ups and downs of a season, because I think it’s a really good group and I think they care about one another. I’m looking forward to watching them work.”
Q: In the second half of last season, you scored at least 27 points six times, at least 22 points seven times. You spoke this week about a continuation of that kind of production. Can you have a continuation from one year to the next?
Shurmur: “I think you can build on the previous year, as long as you’ve done the work. I feel like we’ve done the work, because all that you went through a year ago, it’s kind of a memory bank of reps as you get ready for this season. But every season is new. We have to go out and do it.”
Q: Eli Manning is going to be the first player to play 16 years for the franchise. You were an opponent of his many times and this is your second year with him. What have you learned about him that you didn’t know before you started working closely with him? Is there something, as his coach, that you admire most?
Shurmur: “I think he’s very resilient. He’s very good about staying in the moment. I’ve said this many times about him. Like (yesterday), we’re doing Thursday things as you prepare for Sunday. (Two days ago), we were doing Wednesday things. He can really stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand. I think that helps him on game day. Game day, you’re doing Sunday things. I think that’s important as you go through that process 16 times during the season. So, I admire that about him. He’s able to compartmentalize the wins and the losses and keep going. That’s an important trait for a guy that’s played as long as he has.”
Keep an eye on these five players when the Giants open the season in Dallas.
Q: When people talk about him, it’s often about his demeanor, his calm in pressure situations, his quiet leadership. I’ve often thought he doesn’t get enough credit as a passer. It appears he has been passing the ball well all spring and summer. Would you agree?
Shurmur: “That’s the key to being a quarterback. There are a lot of guys that can throw the ball well and can throw it hard. But in order to be a good quarterback, and to be a good quarterback for a very long time, you have to be a passer. I think that he is that.”
Q: They talk about quarterbacks being an extension of their coach on the field. Has he become that with you?
Shurmur: “I think we’re more on the same page than we were a year ago, just by the nature of having been through it more. There’s a quiet confidence that I see in him this year that - there’s always a little bit of uncertainty the first time you go through something. It takes a while for a new offense to kick in and to get a feel for the thought processes of the play-caller. As the year went on, we got more and more comfortable with that and we blocked better, and you could see more of what Eli could do.”
Q: When we were last in Dallas, Jon Halapio suffered a broken leg that forced him to miss the rest of the season. He’s returned to the center of the line and has remained a leader of the group. What can you say about the character and resilience he showed?
Shurmur: “Well, we’re going to see if the line is better this year. That’s the first thing. But in terms of Pio, I feel like he did a good job of coming back from his injury. He stayed on point getting himself back physically. He was always in tune mentally. I thought he’s had a really good offseason and training camp. We’re looking forward to him going out. We felt like he was playing well when he got himself hurt last year. Hopefully, he can build on that.”
Q: I don’t know if anyone has asked you a question about Antonio Hamilton all spring and summer. In the depth chart that was released this week, he was listed as a co-starter with DeAndre Baker. Last year, he was exclusively a special teams player. Where did he make his biggest improvement?
Shurmur: “He and DeAndre both missed time during training camp, which kind of slowed their roll a little bit. But he’s a competitive guy that’s done a good job on special teams. He’s learned what we’re doing on defense pretty well. You’ll see him out there playing.”
Q: Like last year, a lot of rookies are probably going to play big roles. Dexter (Lawrence), Baker, (Julian) Love, X-Man (Oshane Ximines), (Ryan) Connelly. How do you deal with rookies before their first game? Do you say ‘You’ve played football your entire life, and this is another football game.’ Or ‘This is not another football game. It’s your first NFL game, against a division opponent?’
Shurmur: “You get them trained up within the scheme and try to help them with their mindset. They need to become prepared by doing the work out here, develop a focus prior to the game and then go play and expect to make plays. That’s what you’re trying to do with all players, especially rookies. Some of our players that have been through it before do a good job of helping them stay in the moment. The biggest thing is to go out and do what you know how to do naturally, but also do what you’ve been trained to do and just take it one play at a time. Don’t worry about the game in total, just try to make the most out of every play that you’re in there.”
Q: Dallas has a new offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore. What are the challenges preparing for a team that has a first-time coordinator?
Shurmur: “The challenges are there are some things, obviously, that we haven’t seen. That’s where you just have to make sure you have good leverage, get good pressure on the passer and follow your rules in terms of how we’re going to play certain things. When you get something that we haven’t practiced, you have to be able to respond to it. That’s why I think it’s really important to be very fundamental this week.”
Q: Lastly, the Cowboys have all 11 starters back on defense, with All-Pros at every level and a lot of speed. As the offensive play-caller, what stands out to you about their defense?
Shurmur: “They’re a very active defense, and they’re active at all three levels. The defensive line moves around quite a bit, so blocking moving is going to be important. Their linebackers do a good job of running downhill, but more impressively, sideline-to-sideline. Then in the secondary, when they play man, they can match up really well. They obviously do a good job when they play most of their three deep zone. It presents a challenge. There are good players at every level. We just have to go out and try to out-execute them.”