EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A Wednesday evening practice in the middle of training camp is not usually a milestone event for an NFL head coach, but the Giants' workout tonight in MetLife Stadium will be a big deal for Joe Judge.
For the first time in Judge's tenure, his team will perform in front of his fans in a public practice. Giants fans last saw the team in person in their home stadium in the 2019 season finale on Dec. 29 - 591 days ago.
"I've thought definitely in terms of the excitement we're going to have to go out there and see fans," Judge said in his daily news conference, six hours before the 6 p.m. start to practice. "It's a practice, the formula of a practice will be like what you guys have seen already on the practice fields at Quest. However, it is going to be different. It's our first opportunity – this and the Newark trip we did a couple weeks ago – as far as being in front of fans, but the first time under the lights with fans.
"Look, there's going to be a lot of natural excitement from the coaches and players tonight, there's going to be a lot of raised intensity. One thing we're going to be very conscious of as coaches throughout this practice is making sure we watch our guys, making sure we control the tempo and the volume of practice. We understand there's going to be a raised level of excitement for these guys, we've got to make sure we keep them in the moment and in the flow of things, but, look, the experience tonight of being in front of fans, we're all looking forward to it. It's also going to be a practice for us."
The fans will have several more opportunities to see the Giants in the next month: the preseason opener Saturday night against the Jets, the Aug. 29 preseason finale vs. New England and the Sept. 12 regular-season opener vs. the Denver Broncos.
That raises the larger question of how much will the fans help the Giants enjoy a home field advantage this year? Recent Giants teams have not played as well at home as they would have liked. In 2020, MetLife was empty for each of their eight home games because of the pandemic. The Giants were 3-5 after finishing 2-6 at home in each of the previous six seasons. Since MetLife opened in 2010, the Giants are 41-47 in regular-season home games, plus 1-1 as the visiting team and 1-0 in the playoffs.
Judge was asked today what it takes to "overcome what's been a pretty lackluster home record" for the Giants recently.
"It just takes executing better than the other team," he said. "In terms of anything that's happened in the past, that's not relevant to this year, it's not relevant to any game we're going to play this year. I would say that obviously when I became involved with this job, you start thinking about the history of this organization and the area of the fan base. There's a reason this is such a paramount organization in the National Football League and that really starts with the fans. I mean, the game is about the players, it's about the fans, that's really what the connection is.
"You get what you earn, and we have to earn their respect."
Linebacker and defensive captain Blake Martinez joined the Giants last year after four seasons in Green Bay. The Packers have long had one of the NFL's strongest home field advantages in Lambeau Field – though the Giants won there on the way to Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.
"I think every single team has a kind of home field advantage to it," Martinez said. "I think it all depends on the kind of ebbs and flows of the game. If you're out there dominating, scoring a lot of points, holding teams to very few points, the fans are going to back you and they're going to kind of make that homefield advantage that much more.
"Green Bay was an awesome franchise, but this place is just as historic, and I've heard nothing but positive things about the fans. I'm just excited to get out there today and see everybody out there wearing their jerseys screaming and yelling. It's going to be special."
Judge and the players said it's their responsibility to energize the fans, not the other way around.
"Obviously, we've got to come out and play our brand of football, but that starts here in training camp, not looking too far ahead," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "We get to practice in front of the fans today, give them a preview of the product we hope they can be proud of on Sundays or whenever we play. But that's where our mind is right now. We take care of what we've gotta take care of in training camp and everything else will be fine."
"Look, you want to win every game you play and obviously you want to defend your home turf," Judge said. "I'd say in terms of home field advantage, the advantage always goes to the team that plays and executes better on that Sunday. So, while it can be an aid for you with obviously the energy and excitement provided by your fans, you've got to show up as players and coaches, do your best job and make sure you outperform the opponent."
Giants fans expect nothing less.
*The fans can not only inspire the players but help them. Because fans have been unable to attend camp practices, the Giants can work on their execution with background noise – except for music – for the first time tonight.
"One of you (reporters) asked a question the other day about communication in front of fans," Judge said. "It's going to be a great opportunity for our offense and defense to really work that for the first time with actual crowd noise and not just simulated noise at practice. So, that's something that's going to really help us right there. Look, it's a practice, but there will be a different feel to it tonight."
*Tackle Nate Solder left practice yesterday with what appeared to be an arm injury.
"We're going to see where he is today, see how he feels," Judge said. "No kind of bumps and bruises from what we can tell, but he's gotta get looked at by the doctors and see where he's at."
Judge has spoken highly of Solder, who returned to the field this year after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID.
"I think Nate's obviously having a pretty good camp for us," Judge said. "I'm pleased with the progress he's making right there, so we want to make sure we keep him on the field as long as we can, but obviously won't do anything that puts a player at risk. Obviously, today going into the stadium, third day in a row, we're evaluating a lot of guys based on loads earlier this week and from last week, so we'll see periodically with individuals how we manage them tonight."
*Martinez is a key figure in helping Saquon Barkley prepare for the season. Barkley missed the first two weeks of camp while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. The two players often pair up together in practice.
"We did a drill (Monday) yesterday where it's a non-contact, just a space kind of tracing," Judge said. "We don't do it as a tackle drill, and I told Saquon he was up, I told Blake Martinez, 'You've got Saquon,' because I know these guys can work with respect and what they're going to do against each other. It's just two guys that we trust that Saquon can execute the technique, build in his rehab, get in a football movement. Blake can work what he's going to do, and we also knows that he's not going to do anything and make a mistake that maybe someone else would make. I'm not accusing any one of our players, but sometimes you may get someone who's maybe a little outside their lane and we want to make sure we keep them safe."
Martinez said the practice partnership began last year.
"I think last year every single time we did things, it was always me and Saquon," Martinez said. "Every single time he came up for a certain competition drill, and things like that, I made sure I was right there. It kind of goes back to saying it again, the iron sharpens iron type of thing. Also, with Saquon coming back with his injury, and things like that, I think the coach trusts me. He knows that we're going to get the work in needed, but no kind of funny business, or something out of control, is going to happen during those drills."
*The Giants today swapped defensive tackles when they signed free agent Elijah Qualls and waived former draft choice RJ McIntosh.
They also waived wide receiver Derrick Dillon.
The 6-1, 321-pound Qualls played six games for Philadelphia in 2017, the year the Eagles selected him in the sixth round of the NFL Draft (No. 214 overall). He was credited with four tackles (three solo) and a quarterback hit.
Qualls was waived by Philadelphia at the end of training camp in 2018. He was signed to the Carolina Panthers' practice squad on Dec. 20 of that year and to a reserve/futures contract at season's end. Qualls was waived by Carolina on July 24, 2019 and was briefly with the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in August 2019.
Qualls played in 32 games in three seasons at the University of Washington, where he was a teammate for one year of Giants defensive lineman Danny Shelton. He had 77 tackles (42 solo), 7.5 sacks and was selected first-team All-Pac 12 in 2016. He chose to forego his senior season and enter the 2017 draft.
McIntosh was inactive for all 16 games last season. A fifth-round draft choice in 2018, McIntosh played in 18 games in 2018-19 and recorded 18 tackles (10 solo), including 2.0 sacks.
Dillon was signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent in 2020. He spent most of the season on the team's practice squad before signing a reserve/futures contract on Jan. 5.
View photos of the Giants' first unofficial depth chart of the 2021 season.