Don't let the calendar fool you. Although it's May, the Giants insist this is football season.
"I think it starts in the spring," quarterback Eli Manning said today. "The on-the-field stuff is the most important thing."
That's the stuff the Giants were doing today and will continue regularly through their minicamp next month. They had the first of their nine organized team activities (OTAs), an opportunity to hit the field in shorts and helmets and run basic plays and schemes on offense, defense and special teams.
"All of these workouts are important for everybody to get back into a football mentality," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Our first thing out here is safety. We don't have any pads on; we don't even have shells on now. We do have helmets in this phase. We can go against each other a little bit in this phase. But the development is real important. Just to learn the new language is really critical to be able to come and execute with… if you're on offense with the quarterback, on the defensive side of the ball to get the communication down, the adjustments down. All this stuff is very, very important, obviously, to the development of our team."
Although the Giants don't begin training camp until late July and the regular season on September 5 (at home against Dallas), for some this was a symbolic step for the defending Super Bowl champions.
"It's great to be back on the field practicing," Manning said. "You get to wear a helmet. You're competing against your defense a little bit and getting the new guys on the offensive side into the action, seeing what they can do. It's easy to run routes when there's no defense out there. When you're going against a defense you have to start reading coverages and making decisions and not having a coach behind you, telling you what to do every play. It's good to get out there and get some work."
Most of the players have participated in the team's offseason conditioning program, which began on April 16. But this was the first time they were on the field in a structure very much like an in-season practice. Football players love to play and while there's no hitting in these workouts, it's a satisfying facsimile.
"It's more fun to be out there running plays rather than sitting in meeting rooms – or just running," guard Kevin Boothe said. "If you want us to run, have us run plays rather than have us go out there and run sprints. We definitely enjoy this, because it his is what we do. This is our job. It's always good to get out here. It was cool to get out there and put on the helmet and actually run plays and see a defense in front of us. It's exciting.
"It's real basic stuff, basic install. But it's good to have that refresher and find basic ways to improve on certain plays. I think that's where the veterans are looking. The rookies are looking to learn the plays. We're looking to improve the plays. We're doing a lot of film study of previous years, including last year, and working on our technique and trying to improve."
Defensive end and captain Justin Tuck enjoyed being back on the field with his teammates.
"It's good to be out there with the guys and get a sense of camaraderie again," Tuck said. "I think that's important.
"This is just running around trying to get your legs under you. It's more mental right now than it is physical – getting your mind ready for the long haul. It's doing the small things, the technique stuff. That's the stuff that's going to be your base for the season. And that's what we're doing. You're still getting some good work, but it just isn't as physical as it will be in a few months."
Tuck is entering his eighth season, Manning his ninth. For them and the other plays that have been here for several seasons, these sessions serve as a refresher course. But for newcomers like linebacker Keith Rivers, who arrived in a trade with Cincinnati, it's a vital opportunity to learn.
"It's huge," Rivers said. "It's give you a chance to get up to speed before the live (action) starts. Once camp starts it's two weeks and then you're in a game. It's great to get a feel for the defense. You can learn it on paper all you want to, but it's not ingrained until you mess it up in live action. You have to mess it up a few times – nobody gets it right the first time.
"This is the start of the season right now. Anytime you're out there, the cameras are rolling."
For the Giants, showtime started today.
*The Giants might have suffered their first serious injury of the season. Cornerback Brian Witherspoon, who missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, was carted off with what could be the same injury.
"I'm afraid it was an ACL again," Coughlin said.