EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Jon Halapio had looked forward to this day for almost 11 months, since his 2018 season ended with a fractured ankle and leg he suffered in Dallas in Week 2. So when the Giants put on their shoulder pads and practiced in full football gear for the first time in this training camp, Halapio was a happy center.
"It felt good to be back out there," Halapio said. "You go almost a whole year without pads, so it definitely was different. But yeah, man, it was fun getting back into it. I was absolutely looking forward to it. You can't really get used to hitting until you get to this point in training camp. It was exciting."
Throughout the spring drills and practices, the Giants' coaches said they can't fully evaluate the offensive and defensive linemen because the players aren't wearing pads. That changed today when Pat Shurmur conducted his first full-pads workout. The practice is more intense than the earlier workouts when they players wore shells, and the competition between offense and defense, particularly up front, is raised several notches.
"The trash talk and everything, the whole competition goes up," Halapio said. "It makes practice more fun and competitive. It brings the best out of everybody."
This was the first time the Giants' new-look offensive line, which includes guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Mike Remmers on the right side, got to really hit the defensive linemen – and they loved it.
"We come out there, and we're really excited to finally get to do things we couldn't do without pads," said second-year left guard Will Hernandez. "It always gets you excited. It kind of gets you going. It might get you out of focus here or there, just because it's something that every guy in this locker room likes to do, that's why we play this game. It's definitely an exciting feeling. It's just a little wake-up, and definitely, 'Let's get going.'"
"The first day in pads is a little bit of an adjustment from just helmets," Remmers said. "It is exciting, though, getting out there and hitting people, finally."
Remmers, who said his surgically-repaired back feels good, laughed as he made that last comment. He clearly enjoyed getting a step closer to playing a football game.
His counterparts on the defensive line also appreciated the increased physicality introduced this afternoon.
"Today was very fun, just getting out there, just banging around a little bit, throwing some shoulders, attacking people, being hungry and being angry," said rookie defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. "I haven't been in pads since early December. It felt good being out there, just competing, and helping my teammates get better. That's the game plan every day for me, to show that I care about my guys on the team and to push them to the greatest limit.
"It helps you to get better with pads, because with no pads on, you're working on your technique, trying to be fundamentally sound, and just trying to push without banging. But when you put pads on, it puts the banging in it, and you've already been working on your fundamentals. It kind of just puts it all together."
"It's always fun to get back in pads, especially with your guys, your bros, your defensive line, (and) your linebackers," said second-year defensive tackle B.J. Hill. "It was a great time. Most of the time (in the offseason) you're just working out, you're not actually playing football in those seven months. This was totally different. It felt good, though. You definitely can do way more stuff than you can do with pretty much no pads. We just came out and had a lot of fun on this first day and got better."
The increased competition isn't limited to the skirmishes in the trenches. The wide receivers and defensive backs go at each other with a little more energy and emotion.
"This is the game that we play," wide receiver Russell Shepard said. "We don't play in shorts and shirts. We play with pads on, so it definitely takes it up a notch. (The pads mean) football's officially here. Camp has officially started. You're going to feel a little extra heat on your neck, a little extra weight on your back, and a little extra tempo when the ball is snapped. It allows us to play a full game, and for the front office and the coaches to get a full evaluation of both sides."
*Wide receivers Sterling Shepard (thumb), Darius Slayton (hamstring) and Brittan Golden (groin) and cornerback Henre' Toliver (ankle) did not practice. Cornerback Sam Beal (groin) and
linebacker Mark McLaurin (foot stepped on) left the workout early.